Pavilion of the Commons: Valley Gardens, Brighton_2021


Having that really good conversation means closing the lids on our laptops, leaving our headphones at home and returning to physical meeting in safe ways.

But how is that achievable in our current world?

Where is safe? What is permitted? How do we reconnect or meet for the first time in ways that support the subtlety and nuance of in-person dialogue? These are some of the questions we have been exploring over the last 12 months whilst awaiting approval to resume the student-led Pavilions of the Commons project.

2021 will see the conclusion of the extended AHRC funded design-make project, specifically investigating aspects of common or common-like spaces within or adjacent to urban areas (which I have written about previously here). Initiated in 2019, with the participation of students from studio 06 on the undergraduate architecture programme, the pavilion’s installation will be in Brighton’s Valley Gardens, as part of the wider community engagement programme within the Wastes and Strays interdisciplinary research project.

While the initial design brief from 2019 invited the design for a structure for assembly and interaction on the commons, the ongoing pandemic and consequent need to provide a socially-distanced, safe environment for meeting has driven a new interpretation of the brief. Student proposals from the autumn term of 2019 have been reinterpreted to provide an adaptable structure to facilitate conversations between 3 individuals, with the possibilities for varying degrees of enclosure and privacy.


The design proposal for supporting the really good 3-way conversation builds on principles elicited from the Conversation chair, or love seat, as otherwise known, which was conceived in France during the 19th Century.

Conversation chair,  J. H. Belter (1850–60)

The Conversation chair seats are connected in a serpentine configuration allowing an element of adjacency for discreet conversation without the separation between participants created across a table or in a facing arrangement. In keeping with appropriate etiquette of the time, the arrangement additionally prevents close physical contact by virtue of the shared armrest cleverly doubling as an elegant barrier of sorts.

Our interpretation for the 3-way conversation structure adopts a radial configuration with separate access for each sitter. Combining the benefits of adjacency as well as the potential for adjustment of each of the 3 segments to provide physical distancing whilst always maintaining orientation of the seat away from the direction of other sitters.

These measures whilst developed in response to current concerns for mitigating risks of airborne particle transmission, echo the aims of the historic conversation chair to prevent contact whilst allowing conversational proximity.


Components for each of the 3 segments of the temporary structure will be CNC cut, offering a kit of parts for assembly during the community engagement events programme scheduled for the summer of 2021 in Valley Gardens.