McNeal 020 by David Telerman is a play of geometry, volume and light

Paris-based Atelier David Telerman creates a place for contemplation in the expansive landscape of the Southern Arizona desert, near the Mexican border.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Sep 16, 2021

The great American desert has inspired numerous art and design interventions over the past decades. Perhaps it is the vast landscape devoid of any manmade constructions that inspired the imagination of artists and designers alike. While the land art of the 1960s and 1970s are the first visuals to come to mind, a recent pavilion by Paris-based architect, David Telerman, creates a space in the expansive landscape of the American desert.

  • Drone shot of McNeal 020 | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
    Drone shot of McNeal 020 Image: Iwan Baan
  • Interior view of McNeal 020 | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
    Interior view of McNeal 020 Image: Iwan Baan

McNeal 020 is a pavilion located in the Southern Arizona desert, near the Mexican border. Telerman is known for working across various scales with a preoccupation for playing with geometry, volumes and light, all of which are highlighted in the McNeal 020 pavilion. As an architectural intervention, the pavilion has a sharp geometry that is in contrasting dialogue with the surrounding organic landscape. This would seem like a contradiction as Telerman’s work is based on a strong belief that each project should express and celebrate the inherent truth of its context. So, the question arises, how does a geometric pavilion work in congruence with the vastness of the desert? By embedding it into the ground.

  • View of the steps and the floating bridge | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
    View of the steps and the floating bridge Image: Iwan Baan
  • View of the steps from the bottom of the pavilion | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
    View of the steps from the bottom of the pavilion Image: Iwan Baan

The pavilion takes the form of an inverted stepped pyramid, dug into the ground, and enclosed at the centre with a cuboidal construction. The inverse also bears a resemblance to the ancient stepwells in the state of Rajasthan, India. Whether a reference to the Egyptian pyramids or the Rajasthani stepwells, the pavilion crafts an innate synergy between the earth and the design. At the top of the pyramid, which would be the ground level, four lines are drawn out of the roof of the pavilion. While they seem to indicate an axis, they do not meet at a central nexus. These lines are of different lengths, and extending from the roof, flattened onto the ground. After descending into the pavilion, one will encounter a bench located inside the central space. The opening to this space is aligned to allow light to shine through.

Plan of McNeal 020 | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
Plan of McNeal 020 Image: Courtesy of Atelier David Telerman

All the elements of the structure are made in reinforced concrete, cast-in-place. If we were to analyse the structure as an independent entity, one would notice its apparent simplicity. The architectural forms incorporate primitive characteristics of structures, yet when placed within its context the pavilion has a renewed meaning. This meaning unfolds in two ways, when one approaches the structure and when one ascends the steps.

Black and white photographs of the steps | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
Black and white photographs of the steps Image: David Telerman

The underground structure gradually appears as one walks toward it. The site can be entered through a gate located on the east side. As you get closer to the pavilion one would start to notice the concrete lines which draw you towards the steps. The steps in many ways are a breach in the otherwise natural landscape. It creates an experiential and visual disruption where this white concrete basin stands out against the red soil of the Arizona desert. As one descends into the inner sanctum the natural world disappears.

Black and white photographs from the ground level looking down into the pavilion | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
Black and white photographs from the ground level looking down into the pavilion Image: David Telerman

Inversely, while climbing up the stairs, one discovers progressively the desert and experiences the view of the ground at eye level. There is a contrast between the nature that gradually appears at this particular level, whether one is ascending or descending the stairs. Another subtle element incorporated at the ground level are the bridges attached to the roof. They create a sense of verticality and are meant to bring awareness of one's own body and its fragility with the fear of falling.

Black and white photographs of the interior of the pavilion | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
Black and white photographs of the interior of the pavilion Image: David Telerman

McNeal 020 emerged from a shared desire between David Telerman and a private client based in France to build a perennial structure in the American desert. The two shared a fascination for the surrealist nature of the works of artists such as Max Ernst. The simplicity and juxtaposition of the pavilion are inspired by such surrealist ideas.

Black and white photographs of details | McNeal 020 | David Telerman | STIRworld
Black and white photographs of details Image: David Telerman

Project Details

Name: McNeal 020
Location: Arizona, USA
Area: 297 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Atelier David Telerman
Concept and design: David Telerman
Collaborator: Shaoshu Zhang 
Structural engineering: Bollinger+Grohmann
General contractor: PureBuild, Inc.

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