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Trailfinders Australian Garden
Trailfinders Australian Garden

Trailfinders Australian Garden


LSAA 2011 Design Awards Entry (Cat 7, 7001) Trailfinders Australian Garden - Chelsea Flower Show


MakMax’s client, Flemings Nurseries exhibits annually at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, one of the world most prestigious social and horticultural events. Fleming’s often win awards for their unique exhibition stands. MakMax was engaged to bring an architect’s design to life in the form of a unique temporary structure for Fleming’s entry at the 2011 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.



Our client, Flemings Nurseries, engaged architect, Ian Barker to design their most recent stand. The architect’s inspiration included themes of colonization and the discovery of Australia. Natural shapes and light play a large part in the design brief. The importance of the horticultural theme in the discovery of Australia is through botanist Sir Joseph Banks who along with Captain Cook first documented the unique native flora of Australia. MakMax was engaged to bring this idea to life through the architect’s vision.

Although the concept was the work of the architect, some of the technical details of manufacture were not conceptualized until MakMax engineers began looking at the design from a practical point of view. Being a self supporting structure we had a fair amount of control over the manufacture and fixing details of the project.

One major oversight in the original design was the absence of natural light on the inner space of the dome-like structure. MakMax engineers and project managers suggested ports in the outer skin that would allow natural light to filter through. These ports were reinforced so as not to hinder the streams of light.

Three visits from the architect and 2 prototypes later we had a structure that embodied the architect’s vision and was structurally sound.

The project is definitely a success from all party’s point of view. Precise engineering and manufacture has brought this project to life. Attention to detail and the perfect simplicity in design save this project from being just another exhibition stand.

Tall enough to walk through but low in points the structure engages the visitor, stepping under and around the smooth white edges of the structure may evoke a feeling of stepping through a canvas tent on a beach as explorers may have done. Visitors to this stand are able to look past a crisp white sail as if pulled taught under wind out toward lush green trees. Allowing visitors to touch and feel will surely be a crowd pleaser.


The use of PVC membrane interfaced with lycra feature fabric is supported on steel arches. The steel frame was to internally balance the membrane forces as the foundations were to be very small. As the structure was only temporary the structure was designed in accordance with the British standard with temporary wind loadings. Construction was to take place over a very short time frame so all components were designed for quick installation with minimal equipment.


In order to deliver on architect, Ian Barker’s vision the unique stand required natural light to stream through to the interior of the structure. During the planning and design phase a poor choice of material was made for the outer skin. The impervious nature of the fabric meant no natural light could enter. MakMax quickly realized this fault and rectified the design. The revised structure uses a white PVC outer skin with reinforced port holes to allow light through while staying water tight. In the event of rain this new design would maintain the design appeal, structural stability and comfort within the space.

The interior of the space was designed with smooth, organic shapes and crisp clean lines. MakMax engineers have extensive experience using lycra fabric, this medium is perfect for creating these organic shapes and so was chosen here. The internal tree or stem like structure joins to a ceiling liner that hides the PVC roof from view. All that can be seen on the surface of the lycra layer is the streams on light coming through the port holes in the PVC outer layer. Although the effect is complex and beautiful the means in which it’s achieved is very simple.


The outer layer of this structure uses PVC for stability and weather protection, the seams in these PVC panels are high frequency welded to ensure a watertight seam. The incorporation of ports to the outer layer presented a small challenge, in order to maintain the watertight properties of the structure and considering that this was a temporary structure the decision was made to weld a clear PVC lining to the outer white PVC. The two layers were connected only at the perimeter to the structure so as not to interrupt the clean lines and smooth texture of the outer skin.

The inner layer being lycra required a completely different fabrication technique. Because lycra is an extremely stretchy medium all seams were overlocked using domestic grade machines. The fine fabric would have been chewed to pieces if it were passed though an industrial overlocker. The ceiling liner and tree were both constructed using simple overlocked lycra. The highly elastic lycra was easy to secure to the ground with a simple weight, in the form of a circular wooden disk, this shape also forms the outer shape of the tree where it touches the ground.


MakMax engineers collaborated with designer Ian Barker closely during the fabrication stage of the build. It was vitally important that Mr. Barker’s vision was translated well. Multiple visits to the MakMax factory in Brisbane by Mr. Barker insured that all parties were well informed and consulted on the direction of the structure’s aesthetics throughout the fabrication process.

Installation methodology and instructions were provided by MakMax project manager, Julian Phillips. Because the structure was trialed in the Brisbane factory multiple times all potential snags and pitfalls in the installation were ironed out.

Maintenance for this structure was very minimal, because of the temporary nature of the project a long term maintenance plan was unnecessary.


Project Number: 7001

Title: Trailfinders Australian Garden Presented by Flemings

Location: Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, London, UK SW3

Entrant: MakMax

Role: Design, Engineer, Fabricator, Installer

Client: Flemings Nurseries

Architect: Ian Barker

Structural Engineer: Robert McDonald, MakMax

Builder: Flemings Nurseries