For this year’s Antepavilion contest, an installation competition sponsored by London’s Architecture Foundation, the nearly $31,000 (£25,000) prize went to a floating set of six full-scale sharks that appear to be leaping from the water. Designed by architect Jaimie Shorten of the London-based firm Barker Shorten Architects, the aptly named fourth Antepavilion, SHARKS!, will be placed in the waters of Regent’s Canal in the London borough of Hackney. The six sharks can be arranged in a variety of compositions, allowing them to either threaten onlookers in unison or disperse independently of each other on their floating wooden bases. In an effort to add to their inherent absurdity, the sharks will each be outfitted with audio equipment that will enable them to both sing and “give lectures on architecture and urbanism,” according to a press statement.
When Shorten read the prompt of the Antepavilion contest, which asked participants to respond “to the tension between authoritarian governance of the built environment and aesthetic libertarianism,” the story of the Headington Shark immediately came to mind. In 1986, Bill Heine installed a full-scale fiberglass sculpture of a shark on the rooftop of his Oxford home that appeared to have nose-dived from the sky. Though the Headington Shark was quickly hailed as a beloved local landmark, its installation landed Heine in a six-year legal battle with the local council and bureaucracy that ended in 1992 with a famous statement from the Department of the Environment: “the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them.” The story, which remains a famous one among Englanders, came to symbolize the modern battle between eccentricity and bureaucracy.
SHARKS! was one of five proposals shortlisted out of 135 for this year’s competition (the other four shortlisted proposals were a bridge by Studio Emile, a community garden by Sticks and Stones, a sculpture by bvlt, and a tea house by Akasaki Verhoeven). While the pavilion is expected to be installed by this fall, “the Antepavilion team recognises that this ambition may be frustrated by the ongoing health crisis,” according to a press statement.
Of course, SHARKS! has suitably wacky company among its Antepavilion brethren; 2019’s The Potemkin Theatre brought a not-fully-formed theater to the river’s banks, while the 2018 installation, AirDraft, saw a full-fledged inflatable performance venue chugging along the river’s waves.