Design by Rafailidis and Davidson Wins International Competition to Reinvent Temporary Street Tent Structures

Tent reflects cityscape and human activity on the ground, offering an intensified view of street life

MirrorMirror rendering.

MirrorMirror's design includes a simple forty-five-degree-angled gable roof made from mirroring panels. When combined, the units create a large barn-like structure for hosting gatherings within. The MirrorMirror tent debuted at the IDEAS CITY StreetFest and will now be made available in the marketplace. Photo credit: Benoit Pailley

By Charlotte Hsu

Published June 6, 2013

Festival tents are typically dull, with plain white canopies that do little to reflect the playful emotions such events are meant to evoke.

So to put a twist on these humdrum shelters, architecture faculty members Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis designed MirrorMirror, an easily transportable temporary outdoor structure that holds surprises for anyone who walks by or beneath it.  

The project’s main attraction is a 45-degree-angled gable roof made from sheets of Mylar foil that are stretched over foam-and-aluminum frames to form glassless, double-sided mirrors.

The effect is surreal.

MirrorMirror from the outside.

MirrorMirror was unveiled at the IDEAS CITY street festival in New York City. It was displayed in two locations: on a busy sidewalk and beneath trees in a park. Photo credit: Benoit Pailley

Fairgoers underneath the tent can look up and watch their doubles strolling along in the mirror world. Observers outside the tent can see reflections of trees, the city skyline and slices of sky, with clouds floating across the mirrored roof.

MirrorMirror was the winner of a competition that Storefront for Art and Architecture, the New Museum and Architizer held this spring to produce visually compelling, prefabricated tents that create new ways for people to gather and engage in urban activities.

“Our structure is very simple, but it relates to you through the mirror effect. You’re seeing something which appears to be there, but is not there, so it has this dream-like quality,” says Rafailidis, assistant professor of architecture.

“Our work focuses on creating structures or buildings that relate to people, independent of how or where the structure is being used,” says Davidson, clinical assistant professor of architecture. “MirrorMirror amplifies the activity of the city, no matter what the setting is.”

MirrorMirror includes nine structural units consisting of a hinged, mirrored roof that rests atop a base of steel posts. These units can be positioned side by side to form a continuous, 90-foot-long tent.

The project was designed and built in Buffalo by the UB faculty members’ architecture practice, Davidson Rafailidis. It then was shipped to New York City, where it sheltered booths and crowds on May 4 at the IDEAS CITY 2013 festival, which explored the future of cities with the belief that art and culture are essential to the vitality of urban centers.

Watch a time lapse video of MirrorMirror's construction as Georg Rafailidis reflects on its design.

The IDEAS CITY StreetFest design competition is an international biennial competition, begun in 2011, to initiate the design, management, and construction of innovative temporary outdoor structures that create new ways for people to gather and engage in urban public activities.

More than eighty submissions from across the globe were received for this year's competition. Davidson's and Rafailidis’s submission was selected by a jury of five individuals in the art and architecture fields:

  • Cristobal Correa, Associate Principal, Buro Happold Consulting Engineers
  • Eva Franch i Gilabert, Director and Chief Curator, Storefront for Art and Architecture
  • Michael Manfredi, Principal, Weiss/Manfredi
  • Mary Miss, artist and author of City as Living Laboratory
  • Lisa Phillips, Toby Devan Lewis Director, New Museum