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Category Winner


The Dark Beacon


Kieran Donnellan



Built Structures

Structures & Spaces


Workshop Co Ordinator:Alexandros Kontis; Photographer:Vlad Georgiev; Engineer:Maria Sideri.Construction Team – MEDS (Meetings of Design Students):Adonae Charchar, Aiden Liam Bell, Amber Goveas, Barbare Kacharava, Conor de Burca, Dominikos Wildeboer, Evily Stroda, Georgia Ryan, Giannoula Gkioni, Hadir Hanna Mahmoud, Ilke Senturk, Joseph Murphy, Julie Hilmersen, Kamila Haja, Laura Folmer, Magdalena Storozenko, Marco Van Rensbergen, Mark Breidy, Martina Ferraro, Matthias Brenner, Nils Schimitzek, Rami Lazkani, Rinor Rushiti, Roisin Leavey, Shpat Ademaj, Stephan Matzdorf, Stephanie Steriotis, Sushruth Vandana Gopal, Valon Ismaili, Vlad Georgiev. Metalworker:Nektarios Charalabopoulos; Ship Builders:Nektarios Kleisas Pantelis Korakis; Assistant Mayor Of Spetses:Takis Panou; Mayor Of Spetses:Panayiotis Lyrakis; Main Organizer Of Meds 2019:Stefi Sachinoglou; Clients: Spetses Municipal Government.

Design Challenge and Design Ideas

The Dark Beacon is an architectural pavilion that raises awareness of the dangers of sea level rise on sensitive coastal regions. By 2100, sea level is expected to rise between 1 and 2.4 metres globally, which will compromise low lying coastal settlements and infrastructure. This will lead to extensive construction and reinforcement of coastal defences where practical and economically possible, or relocation.

This pavilion is located on the top of a small hill beside a light-house, overlooking the old harbour of Spetses, a Greek island. While the light house warns of immediate dangers, the pavilion warns of future dangers and reminds people why sustainability is important. This is where the pavilion’s name comes from.

The project is an original and highly creative use of this particular environmental theme as the inspiration for the spatial configuration of a piece of architecture.

How the brief was fulfilled

Influenced by the maritime culture of Spetses, the external form resembles a simplified straight-edged outline of a boat, vertically extruded. Internally, there are 2 pools of water – one on each floor – connected by a ladder. The distance between them is almost the maximum estimated sea-level rise by the year 2100.

Charred wood was selected because the technique is used in traditional boat building, and the burned appearance suits the global warming theme. The pavilion is an innovative experiment in tectonics, where the architectural language, from the smallest details to the overall form, references the ancient technique called Shou Sugi Ban, which uses fire to protect wood in a sustainable way. This involves tying 3 boards into a triangular chimney, setting a fire at the base and allowing it to travel up the chimney. Applying water controls the depth of the burn.

Visitors approach the pavilion via a tree-lined avenue that obscures the view of the pavilion. Gradually the pavilion’s unusual vessel-like form becomes apparent. The triangular doorway is a reference to moving around boats in a confined shipyard. Upon entering, visitors step onto a ramp with an incline designed to cause a brief moment of balance adjustment, similar to stepping from land onto a boat. Proceeding up this ramp, one discovers a pool of water containing large stepping stones. This pool acts as a baseline for the sea-level rise concept. A ladder invites people to the first floor, where they are offered a seat with a stunning view of the Greek mainland and islands. The viewport contains a pool at it’s base. Visitors sit there wondering what might happen to the landscape outside should significant sea-level rise occur. A panoramic view of the harbour and coast is available by climbing the second part of the ladder towards the roof.

I designed the pavilion, and lead the construction during an international collaborative design event for young professionals, graduates and students. The team had participants from around the world and the local community. This allowed the techniques and concepts to be widely disseminated. Teachers in Spetses conduct school tours to the pavilion.


This is a beautiful, intelligent and thought provoking design that raises awareness of a very real future problem. Striking architecture using considered building techniques, a truly meditative structure.



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