Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Located in the lush environs of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Gallery is one of the world’s more interesting venues for showcasing contemporary art. Since the year 2000, the Serpentine has commissioned a pavilion that is up for 3 months during the summer season. Attracting over 300,000 visitors a year it has become an annual highlight for Londoners and visitors alike. With the requirement to simply be a temporary outdoor seating area with a cafe, architects are liberated from many of the material and programmatic constraints normally imposed on them. This leaves the invited architect free to express─in a most pure form─a concept or idea. Past pavilions have been designed by ʻstarchitectsʻ such as Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Frank Gehry, and Oscar Niemeyer, as well as artists Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson. The Serpentineʼs pavilion program has been influential in reviving the general public awareness of and experience of architectural ideas.
This year, Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto was invited to realize his vision of the pavilion. Widely acknowledged as a rising star, Fujimoto is known for works within Japan, but has earned many significant international awards including Architectural Record‘s ʻDesign Vanguardʼ in 2009 and the ʻGolden Lion for National Participationʼ at the 2012 Venice Architectural Biennale. For his effort, Fujimoto aims for a “translucent architecture, a terrain that encourages people to explore the site in new and diverse ways”. The building block for the pavilion is based in a white (wireframe) cube that is scaled to represent the human body; this form is then repeated to produce something that “exists between the organic and the abstract”. The intention is for the repetition and composition of these structures to combine and create a three dimensional latticed structure whose soft edges play with a balance of what is perceived as interior and exterior space. There is also an ambiguity in the construct’s purpose which allows for flexibility in its use: visitors to interact with it, find their own niche to sit in, stand in or just walk through.
Many of the cubes interlock and overlap in a very organic pattern which allows for a great variety in density and transparency to the structure. As a visitor the feeling of walking into the pavilion is akin to the experience of walking into a clearing in Hyde Park itself where, from the canopy above, the interplay of the branches and leaves above filter the light. Fujimoto’s design stands out compared to many previous pavilions in that it feels accessible: the basic white wireframe cubic form is easy for the eye to follow, and the poetry of how these shapes work together to create the structure is easy to comprehend, and exhilarating to discover. There is a balance of chaos and homogeneity; choosing a white hue grounds the chaos of all the structural variation, still allowing it to feel like a ‘place’.
For all the consistency in the basic cubic form itself and the unifying aspect of the colour white, there are odd and deliberate departures in the design. As the structure is a lattice, it does not shelter from rain or wind and the remedy to this are clear circular bicarbonate discs and slender horizontal slashes of the same material, most likely to keep out the wind. These insertions which attempt to hide in the structure seem like a departure from the logic of the design (almost like a quick fix the commissioning committee forces on the project at the last minute). They may also be a short cut to one of the claims─to feel translucent─while still providing the feeling of being sheltered.
As a space to be experienced, and as a place to come into contact with an architectural idea or concept, Fujimoto’s pavilion truly succeeds. In doing so it becomes a distinctive installment in the Serpentine Gallery’s ongoing representation of the architectural vanguard of ideas and aesthetics.
Konstantinos Mavromichalis is director of design at Urban Visuals, a Toronto-based lighting and media company specializing in responsive environments for architecture and interiors. He is currently in the Adaptive Architecture and Computation program at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London.