Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei have created the 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. It is the twelfth commission in the Gallery’s annual series, the world’s first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind.
The design team responsible for the celebrated Beijing National Stadium, which was built for the 2008 Olympic Games has come together again in London in 2012 for the Serpentine’s acclaimed annual commission, presented as part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad. The Pavilion is Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s first collaborative built structure in the UK.
This year’s Pavilion takes visitors beneath the Serpentine’s lawn to explore the hidden history of its previous Pavilions. Eleven columns characterising each past Pavilion and a twelfth column representing the current structure support a floating platform roof 1.4 metres above ground. The Pavilion’s interior is clad in cork, a sustainable building material chosen for its unique qualities and to echo the excavated earth. Taking an archaeological approach, the architects have created a design that will inspire visitors to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time across the ghosts of the earlier structures.
Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Serpentine Gallery, said: “It is a great honour to be working with Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the design team behind Beijing’s superb Bird’s Nest Stadium. In this exciting year for London we are proud to be creating a connection between the Beijing 2008 and the London 2012 Games. We are enormously grateful for the help of everyone involved, especially Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal, whose incredible support has made this project possible.”
The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion will operate as a public space and as a venue for Park Nights, the Gallery’s high-profile programme of public talks and events. Connecting to the
archaeological focus of the Pavilion design Park Nights will culminate in October with the Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon, the latest edition of the annual Serpentine Marathon series conceived by Hans Ulrich Obrist, now in its seventh year. The Marathon series began in 2006 with the 24-hour Serpentine Gallery Interview Marathon; followed by the Experiment Marathon in 2007; the Manifesto Marathon in 2008; the Poetry Marathon in 2009, the Map Marathon in 2010 and the Garden Marathon in 2011. Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal are lead supporters of the Pavilion. They have also purchased the structure and it will enter their collection after it closes to the public on 14 October 2012.
Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei said:
Every year since 2000, a different architect has been responsible for creating the Serpentine Gallery’s Summer Pavilion for Kensington Gardens. That makes eleven Pavilions so far, our contribution is the twelfth. So many Pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape. Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion. In that way we incorporate an otherwise invisible aspect of reality in the park – the water under the ground – into our Pavilion. As we dig down into the earth to reach the groundwater, we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables, remains of former foundations or backfills. Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. Their shape varies: circular, long and narrow, dot shaped and also large, constructed hollows that have been filled in. These remnants testify to the existence of the former Pavilions and their more or less invasive intervention in the natural environment of the park.
All of these traces of former pavilions will now be revealed and reconstructed. The former foundations and footprints form a jumble of convoluted lines, like a sewing pattern. A distinctive landscape emerges which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift. The plastic reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be awed. In other words, the ideal environment for continuing to do what visitors have been doing in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions over the past eleven years. The pavilion’s interior is clad in cork – a natural material with great haptic and olfactory qualities and the versatility to be carved, cut, shaped and formed.
On the foundations of each single Pavilion, we extrude a new structure (supports, walls, slices) as load-bearing elements for the roof of our Pavilion – eleven supports all told, plus our own column that we can place at will, like a wild card. The roof resembles that of an archaeological site. It floats a few feet above the grass of the park, so that everyone visiting can see the water on it, its surface reflecting the infinitely varied, atmospheric skies of London. For special events, the water can be drained off the roof as from a bathtub, from whence it flows back into the waterhole, the deepest point in the Pavilion landscape. The dry roof can then be used as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park.
Julia Peyton-Jones with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Gallery
Julie Burnell, Serpentine Gallery
Sophie O’Brien with Claire Feeley, Serpentine Gallery
Project and Construction Management: RISE
Gareth Stapleton Tom Redhouse
Construction: Stage One
Ted Featonby Mick Mead
Amorim (cork) DP9 (planning consultants) EC Harris (CDM services) Elliott Thomas Group (site security) Gleeds (consultants) Laing O’Rourke (construction equipment) The Landscape Group Ltd (landscaping) SES (surveying and site set-out) Stage One (main structure)