Sunday, 21 July 2013

An Ascent of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Today we follow Marianna Michael on a precarious clamber up the 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto. 

Walking through the green fields of Kensington Gardens my eye is caught by the distant emergence of a white scaffold. Squinting through the blinding sun it is just possible to make out people trespassing on the construction site. On coming closer, however, the structure represents something entirely different. It is a building, a work by architect Sou Fujimoto, and an irresistibly delicate piece of architectural design.
The geometric framework, constructed from steel, glass and polycarbonate, appears more organic than it does linear and solid. Despite the original sketches in which the piece looks like it might become a mechanical looking installation, in execution Fujimoto’s concept comes to life as a semi-transparent ‘floating cloud’; an airy space that acts as an ‘artificial landscape’. Formally it will be used as a performance and event space and more informally for visitors to clamber and sit upon.

The building is the thirteenth of the Serpentine’s annually commissioned pavilions, which have included Peter Zumthor’s dark and understated secret garden and Ai Wei Wei and Herzog de Meuron’s cavernous subterranean examination of the foundations left behind by pavilions that have previously stood on that spot.

Alongside a requirement of functionality and interactivity, the Serpentine Pavilion is also invited to consider the natural surroundings of Kensington Gardens. Even when inside Fujimoto’s pavilion you remain very much out in the open. Looking out from its centre the geometric edges merge with the surrounding park.

Within this cloud of steel the quintessentially British Fortnum & Mason have set up the hamperling, the pavilion’s answer to lunching in architectural style. The cafe provides a contemporary version of a traditional afternoon tea, however, having just had lunch, I opted for a coffee and decided to embark on a journey up the structure, balancing coffee, hat and camera. During an ascent, this climbing frame for all ages becomes a vertical maze; you are unsure of where you are heading, how you are going to get there and even which points you can reach.
This architectural work is an interactive piece of art that encompasses the nature that surrounds it and the food and social gatherings that occur within it. At the moment it allows us to enjoy the fleeting British sun, and when the weather gives out, round disks of polycarbonate will protect from the inevitable late summer showers.

Marianna Michael

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
 designed by Sou Fujimoto 
8 June - 20 October 2013

Image Captions:
From inside the pavilion: © Sou Fujimoto Architects, Image © 2013 Jim Stephenson

Above: A concept sketch 
Below: An indicative CGI, both © Sou Fujimoto Architects

The pavilion at night: © Sou Fujimoto Architects, Image © 2013 Iwan Baan

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