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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Jurgen Mayer on urban mobility

A year ago carmaker Audi challenged a group of world architects to map out some feasible solutions for mobility within the future urban environment. They were asked to conceive of a cityscape for 2030 where urban planning, building design, wireless digital technology and vehicle design work together for sustainable mobility.

The result of the Audi Urban Future Awards was fascinating at times, confused and a little naive at other times, but on the whole what emerged from the months of discussion between the architects and car designers were some really innovative ideas.

Fast-forward to the present day and Audi has once again challenged some of the same architects involved in the first round to further develop their ideas. We flew to Frankfurt to meet with Jurgen Mayer of J Mayer H, the Berlin firm that won the first round, to discover how his ideas have evolved since.

Jurgen Mayer of J. Mayer H.

Design Talks. Last year you participated and won the Audi competition to envisage a future cityscape where cars, buildings and the city work together for cleaner and more harmonious mobility. How have you developed the idea since?

Jurgen Mayer. The fairytale we developed for the Audi Urban Future Awards was to find what are the potentials for the city of the future. We call it a fairytale, as there seems to be an uncanny agreement between governments, car companies, us architects – we all agree on a common goal. This isn’t normal as there is always someone who doesn’t necessarily agree!

DT. Does this mean you’re sticking to the same premise as your proposal for round one of the competition?

JM. Yes but it is a development that needs a network of support from the city who have to be open to it, mobile phone providers have to help and so on. We are now working with all the various groups within Audi to see what are the resonances of this idea.

DT. How willing are car companies to embrace new ideas on transport and mobility?

JM. Ultimately they know they have to move from being a car company to mobility providers. This means not only providing cars, but other mobility solutions like hot spots in cities, putting the power from the car into an elevator and other forms of transportation that are especially crucial to our ageing society. It is about looking away from micro mobility to becoming mobility providers and this is something that a company like Audi can do.

DT. This is quite a utopian notion but how would this commercially work for a company like Audi?

JM. That is their business but if you create an all-inclusive mobility system such as some airlines like Lufthansa have, then you become a member of a mobility system. They can even create membership systems that you can feel comfortable with and you trust and are available for all forms of mobility.

DT.  Do you feel the discussions have now become more serious?

JM. There is a very good dynamic. What is interesting is that Audi really does want to create a relationship with us. They are also involved with a wider network of people on this subject, including MIT, to look at where these ideas can go and how they can further develop.

DT. When we spoke a year ago you had some reservations about how open Audi was, especially its design department, in letting you in so to speak. Has this aspect changed?

JM. Yes they were secretive but now I understand the car industry much more and it has to be guarded. But yes there is much more of a dialogue now. It took them a while to open up but now we’re having very serious discussions.

DT. Your initial proposal still championed the car as a mode of individual transport. Have you reconsidered this?

JM. Yes you don’t have a personal car anymore; it is like a taxi system. We pushed it much further especially as to what the car means – as status symbol and so on – and that it is more about being a mobility provider. It has become more of a chart of what are the shifting paradigms. There are complex sets of new ideas we’ve developed.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read more about his ideas on urban mobility here, also have a look the report on phase one published in Wallpaper*.

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Exhibiting minimalism: John Pawson

British architect John Pawson is either very lucky, or very well connected, to have his first solo exhibition at London’s Design Museum while he is still practicing his craft. John Pawson: Plain Space celebrates the master of minimalism’s career from the early 1980’s to the present day through a series of photographs, correspondence and architectural drawings and models.

Starting with an insider’s view of Pawson’s practice in King’s Cross, visitors are slowly led through to an impressively long table showing a series of models of unrealised projects and interesting snipets of conversation between architect and client.

Most intriguing is Pawson’s correspondence with the designer Karl Lagerfeld, where the German-born fashion minimalist amusingly questions Pawson’s idea of a tennis court surrounded by a hedge, for his home in the south of France. Sadly, this collaboration was never realised.


A large 1:20 scale model of John Pawson’s pioneering north London home shows how lacking in impact the smaller models are, with large photographs of the space giving a real sense of how his minimalist vision translates in real life.


John Pawson: Plain Space is on until 30 January 2010 at the Design Museum in London.

Guest blogger Andrea Klettner
Follow her blog I love Council Housing.

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Batumi pebbles inspire aquarium design

These are images of Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects‘ winning competition for a new aquarium in the seaport of Batumi in the Republic of Georgia. The building will replace the previous aquarium and feature a Dolphinarium and a Zoo.

Henning Larsen’s design was inspired by the soft shape of the pebbles of Batumi beach. Project manager Anders Park notes: “It has been important for us to create a design that relates explicitly to local characteristics of Batumi while at the same time reaching out to the world. The aquarium interacts with its surroundings and becomes a manifestation of nature itself.”

Batumi Aquarium aims to be a modern, cultural aquarium offering visitors an educational, entertaining and visually stimulating journey through the different seas. The building contains four self-supporting exhibition areas, each representing a unique marine biotype.

”The building will become a landmark and an organic reference to all elements of the sea,” says Louise Becker, design director and partner at Henning Larsen.

Guest blogger Nicholas Smith

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