How can the design community work with computational design – utilising virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and video gaming – to help advance the design process, create complex geometries, and the kind of advanced sculptural forms that would otherwise not be possible through conventional design methods? I asked Arturo Tedeschi, architect and computational designer of Milan studio A>T, what he sees as the possibilities and limitations of the design process. Read the full interview here
The Serpentine Galleries hold a unique position. They are nestled in Kensington Gardens in London’s glorious Hyde Park. They occupy discreet spaces and you may not even notice them walking by. Yet the two boutique galleries – Serpentine and Sackler – have held some of the most exciting exhibitions in the city. Then there is the annual commission for the Serpentine Gallery pavilions – one of the most anticipated events in the architecture calendar since its launch in 2000 showing work by Zaha Hadid, Frank Ghery, Bjarke Ingels and now Diebedo Francis Kéré.
Yana Peel became chief executive of the organisation over a year ago when she took over the position from its founder Julia Peyton-Jones. She has an extraordinary record of service to the arts, co-founding the contemporary art fund Outset, co-chairing the public debate forum Intelligence Squared Group; she sits on many arts advisory boards, and still appears to have time to write children’s books.
Peel also brings a very different approach to the Serpentine programme which I discovered when I met with her in March for an article for Weatherbys Private Bank Magazine. Below is an edited version of our interview.
Nargess Banks: You’ve spoken passionately about making exciting art and ideas available to a broad audience, and there is something egalitarian about the Serpentine Galleries being accessible and free, which also relates to your background at Outset and art philanthropy.
Yana Peel: I am incredibly excited about this open landscape for art and ideas. What we are trying to do is lure in the visitor who would normally not come in, for instance with the Pavilion, whether it’s the wireless access in terms of the mobile app, or virtual reality with Zaha Hadid. It is about creating programmes around art, architecture, fashion and music. It is about collapsing these universes and being a hub for these kinds of multiple discussions which are so relevant in the world today.
NB: How do you see the Serpentine expanding on its mission to bring these visions to an even wider audience?
YP: Well, as with all things we do at the Serpentine, it starts with the art and the artists we work with. Take our 2017 Summer season – we are excited to present Grayson Perry, the first solo UK show of the American filmmaker and artist Arthur Jafa, and our Summer Pavilion by architect Diebedo Francis Kéré.
As you can tell by the show’s title ‘Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’, Grayson addresses front on the question of popularity and populism – who comes to an art gallery and why. AJ is someone with a cult reputation for work with Spike Lee, Stanley Kubrick and Solange Knowles. Here he reinvents the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, taking his message right across London with a series of interventions in unexpected places. And Kéré is a marvel, and perhaps the nicest man you will ever meet, with community at the very heart of his practice. All these artists are excited by the opportunities the Serpentine presents and we’re excited to work with them. We are a small gallery in terms of our footprint, but with a local, national and international reach.
NB: I’ve read you admire creatives with disruptive ideas, a vision you share with the artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist. Given our current political climate, how crucial is the role of galleries like the Serpentine to provoke open debates, explore how the arts can help shape society, agitate even?
LP: Essential! And it is the artists who are best place to do this. That’s why everything we do is artist led. The late John Latham (who exhibited at the Serpentine at the time of our interview) believed powerfully in the artist’s role in society. His Artist Placement Group put artists in industry long before the concept of residency became cool. At Sackler, we showed four contemporary artists picking up this radical mantle.
NB: The younger generation consumes art in different ways, perhaps in a less linear fashion. How do you see the organisation responding going forward?
LP: It is a given that we must be where they are. This mean across all social media platforms, those we know and those we don’t yet know about. Technology is a key focus for me, and something Hans Ulrich and I work closely on with our curator of digital. How can we use technology to give bigger and wider audiences access to our art? More importantly, we need to make sure we are listening as well as talking. It has to be a dialogue, always. Whether that is Hans Ulrich’s 89+ project (co-founded by Simon Castets), our educational outreach on the Edgware Road, or our fantastic Future Contemporaries fundraising board. To be meaningful, the dialogue must reach across all areas of the organisation.
NB: Events such as the summer marathons, although open to all, can be intimidating for some. How can they be made to be more inclusive?
YP: The Marathon is an annual joy, and last year’s Miracle Marathon was our best yet. The second day was held just off Brick Lane, mixing our West London magic with East London cool. The atmosphere was fantastic and the audience definitely younger than ever. We also broadcast the entire event on the Serpentine Radio, opening it up to a whole new audience, giving people the chance to engage with the material on their own terms.
NB: The annual Serpentine Pavilion commission has become one of the most respected events in the architecture calendar. How do you see this project pushing the envelope even further?
LP: (The 2017 Pavilion winner) Francis Kéré’s work is so exciting and a way of bringing his village of Gando, Burkino Faso into Kensington Gardens. The Pavilion has such a history and Hans Ulrich and I, in making our first joint selection this year, were so mindful of that. Equally, we did want to push things forward. Kéré’s practice is rooted in community and sustainability. He is also the most wonderful storyteller. His design, based on a tree which is the focal meeting point in his hometown on Gando, is the inspiration for a new piece of programming that will bring even wider audiences in to what we call an open landscape of art and ideas.
Watch this space as we are going to bring in different groups. We’re looking at how we can use our privileged position, use our platform to bring in dissenting voices. Always better to debate a question than to answer…
‘Grayson Perry: Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ and Arthur Jafa ‘A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions’ are on at the Serpentine and Sackler galleries until 10 September. Francis Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion will be at Kensington Gardens until 8 October.
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
Architects have a fondness for designing chairs. It stems from a long tradition – the pieces of furniture often acting as architectural manifestos, small tokens representing the ideology and style of the architect. David Adjaye says it is like a ‘testing ground for ideas that interest me’. The architect has worked with manufacturer Knoll on a number of projects including the 2013 Washington Skeleton and Washington Skin chairs. Furniture, he notes in an interview in Chairs by Architects, is a background. ‘There is something very powerful and very rewarding about that.’
This latest book by Thames & Hudson features fifty-five examples of work from the beginning of the nineteenth-century until now – chairs by early modernists Jean Prouve, Otto Wagner, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Antonio Gaudi and Walter Gropius, as well as contemporaries Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and David Adjaye.
Each product is placed alongside an example of the architect’s building work. Visually it works as a simple way of identifying the language of design. It is also intriguing to see how these highly accomplished architects tackle a smaller object as such.
Interviews with some of the architects and designers involved helps bring the subjects to life. Chairs by Architects is a book worth exploring.
Chairs by Architects is by Agata Toromanoff and published by Thames & Hudson.
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.
Serpentine Pavilion 2016 is at Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London from 10 June – 9 October
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