Jun 22 2012

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion

One of London's most ambitious modern art galleries, the Serpentine Gallery has commissioned the job to transform the 'Serpentine Gallery Pavilion' – a project they annually repeat since 2000 – to the able hands of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei.

Zeynep Erekli

Contemporary art, fashion, new ideas, architecture and a unique street culture. London is a city in which all these elements are developing, changing, shaped and exported at a head-spinning speed, and in terms of arts and culture, it certainly is not downshifting in presenting new things to its citizens and visitors...

The Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, a part of the expansive Hyde Park operates as a center of architecture and arts that also plays host to modern and contemporary architecture. Taking its name from the Serpentine Lake inside the park, the gallery annually welcomes around 750.000 visitors and since 2000 it invites a globally renowned architect to come and design the temporary pavilion structure that lies on its front lawn. This structure provides a display area for original specimens of contemporary architectural applications. The project started in 2000 with Zaha Hadid and so far involved many a significant architect and artist. Among the names that have designed the pavilion are the likes of Jean Nouvel (2010), SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa) (2009), Frank Gehry (2008) and Oscar Niemeyer (2003).

Ever since the project began with great success in 2000, each year the name that will undertake this huge responsibility becomes a great source of intrigue and discussion in the architecture scenes. In 2012, this prestigious position was handed to the Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei and the architecture duo Herzog & de Meuron who are best know by their 'Bird Nest' stadium, the focal point of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion which was launched in 1 June, will be open for visit until 14 October. So far it proved to become the most original and awe inspiring architectural project of the summer of 2012. The project which brought together Swiss architecture duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron with Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei – who has been in the headlines since 2011 due to his house arrest ordered by the Chinese government – will surely go down in Serpentine Gallery's history.

This year's pavilion appears as a structure emerging from the ghosts of the previous projects. While the use of 11 columns makes reference to the past projects, the addition of the 12th column represents the current pavilion. These 12 columns support a floating platform 1,4 meters above ground. The project space lies underneath this ascending structure. This underground section of the pavilion is clad in cork – a materiel chosen for its warmth, its harmony with the soil and its positive effects over the visitors. The layout which echoes the previous projects, provides an auditorium-like atmosphere in which visitors may gather and sit in groups.

As a matter of principle, throughout its 12-year history, the project has been handed to architects who have never been involved in a project in Britain. The choice of Herzog & de Meuron, who have appeared in numerous Britain-based projects like the renovation and extension of Tate Modern, therefore constitutes a first for the Serpentine Gallery. However the directors of the gallery, Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, point out that this rule has not been changed and that “this is the first structure of this trilateral cooperation in Britain”.