This is Diébédo Francis Kéré’s gentle architectural installation for the annual Serpentine Pavilion project. It will sit here on the lawns of Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park in London until October encouraging the public to enter, sit, read, eat, interact.
The 2017 Pavilion is a far cry from last year’s jazzy unzipped wall of cold, hard-edged metallic boxes by Bjarke Ingels. Whereas that was a brilliant visual statement and picture-perfect for Instagram, the award-winning Berlin-based African architect’s structure is modest – the materials are from nature and almost blend into the surrounding park.
Kéré’s Pavilion mimics a tree, one that serves as a central meeting point in his childhood village of Gando, Burkina Faso. His architecture seeks to connect its visitors to nature and to one another. It is about giving shelter but not cutting people off – encouraging interaction, building communities.
I spoke with Yana Peel the new Serpentine Gallery chief executive a little while ago who was visibly excited about the prospect of working with Kéré. She told me her and the Serpentine creative director Hans Ulrich Obrist want to push things forward with the Pavilion project – be more radical. ‘Kéré’s work is so exciting,’ she says. ‘He is a marvel, and perhaps the nicest man you will ever meet, with community and sustainability at the very heart of his practice.’
The 2017 Pavilion also acts as the inspiration for a new piece of programming aimed at bringing wider audiences in to what Peel calls ‘an open landscape of art and ideas’. This includes the Serpentine Marathons which involve talks and debates here throughout the summer.
It also involves exhibiting artists who are controversial, who speak to a wider audience such as the summer exhibition of Turner Prize-winning British artist Grayson Perry with the provocative headline: ‘Grayson Perry Presents: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’. Judging by the endless line outside, it certainly seems to be living up to its name. Peel says: ‘Grayson wants to address front-on the question of popularity and populism – who comes to an art gallery and why.’
Whilst over at the sister Sackler gallery down the lane, the American cinematographer Arthur Jafa, with a cult reputation for his outstanding work with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee and Solange Knowles, is reinventing the space and taking his message right across London with a series of ‘interventions in unexpected places’, says Peel.
The Serpentine Pavilion is architecture as installation art and, since its inception in 2000, has become one of the most anticipated events in the architectural calendar. It certainly is one of my annual highlights. Yesterday afternoon, as I made Francis Kéré’s architecture my temporary office, first sitting on the wooden stools inside, then at the back on a park bench nestled amongst real trees, I witnessed people of all ages settle, find a good seat, smile, chat, enjoy treats from the little café. Much like the natural light and soft textures that make this building, the atmosphere here is warm and friendly. Who knows, perhaps it will help build communities during the summer months.
Photography: Leigh Banks
Serpentine Pavilion 2017 will be at Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London from 10 June – 9 October