BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion and summer houses

There is a delicate neo-classical building on a little hill in the middle of Kensington Gardens nestled in thick grass and wild flowers and with views over the Long Water. You can see Henry Moore’s Arch across the water from here. I often run in Kensington Gardens stopping briefly by this romantic summer house. There is an old tree to its right – the trunk is a good size and perfect for a hand stand. Upside-down, the summer house is even more intriguing. The light from here is very special… in all seasons.

Queen Caroline’s Temple was designed in 1735 by William Kent for Queen Caroline who was responsible for the shape of the gardens as they are now. Some of the graffiti dates back to 1821 when Hyde Park was first opened to the public. Up until this week I had no clue as to the history of this summer house and in many ways the mystique had added to the romance. Now, the building is at the heart of the annual Serpentine Pavilion project which has grown from one commissioned temporary installation to five. This summer Hyde Park has transformed into a feast of architectural dialogue. But more on the summer house later.

The star of the Serpentine Pavilion is the main structure by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) – an exciting practice with offices in Copenhagen, New York and from this week London with a strong focus on sustainability and finding new solutions for urban living. We have reported extensively on BIG in the past.

For the 2016 Serpentine project, some 1,802 modular boxes of equal proportions form both the structure and envelope creating quite a dramatic vista. ‘This is a small structure in a gigantic park,’ mused the founder Bjarke Ingels at the unveiling of the building earlier this week on an equally dramatic English summer’s day as the sky turned abruptly from bright blue to darkness and thunderstorms.

These 400 by 500mm lightweight fibreglass frames are stacked on top of one another and joined by aluminium extrusions transferring the load from box to box for what Ingels calls an ‘unzipped wall’. He explains: ‘This unzipping of the wall turns the line into a surface, transforming the wall into a space’ so the promise is for the complex three-dimensional space it reveals to be explored in new and exciting ways.

Much like the fifteen pavilions that came before, BIG’s installation will house park goers by day, and in the evenings transform into a space for talks and debates on visual culture in Park Nights. ‘It embodies multiple aspects that are often perceived as opposites,’ says the architect, ‘a structure that is free-form yet rigorous, modular yet sculptural, both transparent and opaque, both solid box and blob.’ In October, when the building is dismantled, these prefabricated modular boxes will find new lives elsewhere in different forms and shapes.

Queen Caroline’s Temple sits a stone’s throw away from BIG’s bold project, and for the second part of the Pavilion project, the organisers have tasked four architects, ranging in age from 36 to 93, to respond to the summer house with very different answers.

Kunlé Adeyemi‘s is a classic summer house – a space for shelter. The form is an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s that plays tribute to the original building’s robust form, space and material, says the Nigerian architect.

Barkow Leibinger chose to work with a second building William Kent had designed for Queen Caroline that no longer exists. It had been erected at the top of the hill nearby and would rotate 360-degrees so viewers could survey Kensington Gardens and the lake. Here the American/German firm has created a structure made of loops with a series of undulating structural bands as a nod to this vanished second summer house.

Elsewhere, Yona Friedman’s is a maze of modular wireframes expanding on the Hungarian/French architects La Ville Spatiale 1950s project. Here, the structure is a ‘space-chain’, which constitutes a fragment of a larger grid structure.

Lastly, the youngest of the group, London-based Asif Khan’s project is a secluded courtyard that reflects sunlight. He explains: ‘Kent aligned the temple towards the direction of the rising sun on 1 March 1683, Queen Caroline’s birthday.’ And his polished metal platform and roof aim to provide an intimate experience of this moment in history.

‘There should be no end to experimentation,’ says the Serpentine Pavilion co-founder Hans Ulrich Obrist, quoting the late Zaha Hadid who was the first architect to offer her pavilion design sixteen years ago, years before she had created an actual building in the UK.

The Serpentine Pavilion scheme is hugely exciting. Since 2000, every year the team commissions an international architect to construct a temporary building in whatever material they see fit – the structure remains in the park from June to October. Past projects have seen buildings erected using plastic, stone, even cork… and it is always fascinating to see how they age, how they withstand the unpredictable English summer, how they live in Hyde Park, as well as how the public responds to them. After all, these are not decorative art installations, but buildings that are there to be experienced.

Nargess Banks

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 is at Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London from 10 June – 9 October

Read about the previous Serpentine Gallery Pavilions here.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2015 by Selgascano

A series of colourful plastic cocoons lighten up Hyde Park on this unseasonably cold, wet summer’s day. They invite us to walk in and wander around the psychedelic maze. This is the Serpentine Pavilion as envisaged by Madrid-based architect Selgascano. And today it provides a much-needed refuge from the downpour.

Sitting here in the central space whilst sipping coffee by Fortnum & Mason who are running the café, I cannot help but smile as delicate, twinkling light filters through from above and around resembling glass-stained window. This has been achieved through working with a double-layered shell that is made of opaque and translucent fluorine-based plastic in multiple colours.

‘Design needs to connect with nature and feel part of the landscape,’ says Selgascano. The architect wanted to create a concept that offered a visitor experience. The firm set out to encourage the public to experience architecture through simple elements – ‘structure, light, transparency, shadow, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and material’.

The temporary structure consists of a series of connected spaces of varied sizes. The spatial qualities of the Pavilion only unfold when accessing the structure and being immersed within it. Selgascano says: ‘Each entrance allows for a specific journey through the space, characterised by colour, light and irregular shapes with surprising volumes.’

The installation marks the 15th anniversary of the annual Serpentine Pavilion series. The series sees an inspirational temporary structure by some of the world’s more exciting architects commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery and constructed in London’s Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park during the summer months. The installation acts as a meeting space during the day, and hosts various cultural events in the evenings.

This is architecture as public art. The idea is for art lovers, park strollers, joggers and tourists alike to engage with conceptual design.

Past projects have included work by starchitects Frank Gehry, Peter Zumthor, Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid. Yet it is often younger practices such as Selgascano and last year’s Smiljan Radic who offer a more inspired journey.

Serpentine Pavilion 2015 is at Kensington Gardens, London from 25 June – 18 October

To celebrate the 15th anniversary, the Serpentine Pavilion is also running Build Your Own Pavilion: Young Architects Competition for children aged eight to 14. To find out more and how to enter visit here.

Nargess Banks

Read about the previous Serpentine Gallery Pavilions here.

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Serpentine Pavilion by Smiljan Radic

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the much-anticipated 14th Serpentine Gallery Pavilion by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic. The annual temporary structure in London’s Hyde Park is a highlight of the year, and the latest is one of the most captivating of the recent commissions.

Occupying some 541 square-metres on the lawn of the gallery, the semi-translucent, cylindrical structure almost hovers over large quarry stones that evoke the spirit of Fischli and Weiss’s wonderful Rock on Top of Another Rock (pictured) that sits a few meters away.

The shell-like structure is constructed using paper-thin layers of white fibreglass that look like papier mache and allow a little sunlight to shine through for a warm glow. Inside is hollow with a central courtyard that opens to the sky. There are cut outs in the walls that create jagged framed views of the surrounding Kensington Gardens.

Radic says he sees the park as a symbolic place. ‘For me it is a folly,’ he says of his creation, ‘and the folly is historically a romantic place… a place of extravagance and atmosphere.’

The architect has created an impression of rooms to break up the volume so that visitors can feel ‘at once inside and outside,’ he notes, and simultaneously ‘the sensation of brutalism’. Radic refers to his own work as ‘crude architecture’ – burda in Spanish – for the way the structure feels like layers of masking tape, like its just been roughly put together.

Following the press briefing I venture underneath. It is cosy down here. Sitting by the big, rough foundation stones, with the translucent shell hovering above, I feel transported to a fantasy world. It is easy to see how the architect was inspired by the castle in Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and by David Hockney’s drawings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

This is a building that is at once childlike and magical. Radic says, ‘just look at the volume without thinking too much. Just accept it.’

The Serpentine Pavilion is open to the public during its four-month tenure in the park. On selected Friday nights it will also stage the Serpentine’s Park Nights series – eight site-specific events bringing together art, poetry, music, film, literature and theory.

We can’t wait to see it in real life, when mums bring their kids during the day to run around and explore, when tourists stumble across it exploring Hyde Park, and when in the evenings it becomes a social space.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read about the previous Serpentine Gallery Pavilions here.

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Smiljan Radic’s 2014 Serpentine Pavilion

These are images of one of the most exciting projects proposed for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Smiljan Radic will be the 14th architect to design a temporary structure in London’s Hyde Park this summer. Occupying around 350 square-metres, the Chilean architect has envisaged a rather intriguing flexible, semi-translucent, cylindrical structure that has been designed to resemble a shell, resting on large quarry stones. The concept has its roots in Radic’s earlier work, particularly The Castle of the Selfish Giant, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story, and the Restaurant Mestizo.

The temporary Serpentine Pavilion is part of the history of small romantic constructions seen in parks or large gardens, popular from the end of the 16th to the start of the 19th century, notes Radic.

‘Externally, the visitor will see a fragile shell suspended on large quarry stones. This shell – white, translucent and made of fibreglass – will house an interior organised around an empty patio, from where the natural setting will appear lower, giving the sensation that the entire volume is floating,’ he says. ‘At night, thanks to the semi-transparency of the shell, the amber tinted light will attract the attention of passers-by, like lamps attracting moths.’

Much like the previous Serpentine Pavilions, it will be a social space designed to entice visitors to enter and interact during its four-month tenure in the park. On selected Friday nights, between July and September, it will also stage for the Serpentine’s Park Nights series – eight site-specific events bring together art, poetry, music, film, literature and theory and include three new commissions by emerging artists Lina Lapelyte, Hannah Perry and Heather Phillipson.

Smiljan Radic’s design follows Sou Fujimoto’s cloud-like structure, which was visited by almost 200,000 people in 2013 and was one of the most visited Pavilions to date.

Read about the previous Serpentine Gallery Pavilions here.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Memory Marathon at the Serpentine

‘We move so fast that memory is something we can only try to grasp,’ says Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion – this year created by Ai in collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron – inspires Memory Marathon. The three-day event sees leading artists, writers, filmmakers, scientists, architects, musicians and theorists gather together in a continuous, performative programme of explorations and experiments about and within memory.

This is a pretty diverse gathering of creatives. Sadly historians Eric Hobsbawm, due to attend the event, passed away last week. Alongside Jay Winter and Donald Sassoon, he was scheduled to explore the theme of ‘War Memory’. The event is therefore dedicated to this fascinating historian.

Amongst the confirmed participants are REM vocalist Michael Stipe, and filmmakers Amos Gitai and David Lynch who will present a new film. Celebrated neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield will introduce ‘The Problem of Memory’ with writer John Hull. There will be a robotics expert Luc Steels and World Memory Champion Ed Cooke, artists Olivier Castel and Ed Atkins, publisher Jefferson Hack, and scent expert Sissel Tolaas.

The event begins with a five-hour performance by acclaimed Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, who together with 14 world musicians will take audiences on a mesmerising journey through Tarab and classical Arab music recorded from the early 20th century onwards.

‘As a curator, I am constantly engaged in building memory or, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, leading a ‘protest against forgetting’,’ says Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery.

‘Although we are hugely sad that Ai Weiwei still cannot travel to be with us and see the Pavilion that provides the inspiration for this year’s Marathon, his brilliant co-designers, Herzog and de Meuron, will be among a stunning array of world-leading experts exploring the subject of memory through the prism of art, history, science and technology, considering – among many other things – the suspicion that there is a kind of systematic forgetting at the core of the information age.’

Memory Marathon marks the closing week of the Serpentine Pavilion 2012.

Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon runs from 12 – 14 October for tickets visit here.

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