Tuesday, July 05, 2005

serpentine pavilion

Visitors strolling in London's Kensington Gardens during the next three months will notice an intriguing new architectural structure on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery. The striking building is the latest of the Serpentine's annually commissioned summer pavilions. With its segmented, armoured appearance it resembles something from the animal world.

The Pavilion has been variously compared to an armadillo, a dinosaur, and a cross between a turtle and a millipede. Its impermeable shell (a translucent polycarbonate material on a timber lattice) stops 1.3 metres above the ground, giving the impression that the Pavilion hovers over the lawn.

The Pavilion opened last Saturday and remains in place until early October when it will be dismantled. As well as viewing the Pavilion from outside, visitors can go inside for a cup of coffee or a meal. The pavilion is a café and restaurant by day, and a space for learning, debate and entertainment by night.

The Pavilion was designed by Portuguese architects Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, together with the deputy chairman of Arup, Cecil Balmond, and his team. Siza is regarded as the greatest living Portuguese architect, and has received many awards. In designing the Pavilion he tried to establish a "dialogue" between it and the contrasting Neo-classical architectural style of the Serpentine Gallery.

The Pavilion is based on a rectangular grid, skewed into a dynamic, curving form. It is constructed of interlocking timber beams. This use of timber gives the structure an organic character, and evokes the relationship between the Pavilion and the richly treed Kensington Gardens.

The first Serpentine Pavilion was designed in 2000 by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid's structure, which marked the gallery's 30th anniversary, subverted the conventional idea of a tent or marquee.

In the years since, the erection of the Serpentine Pavilion has been a highlight of the London summer. The Serpentine has commissioned some of the world's most distinguished architects to design pavilions. In summer 2001 the architect was Polish-born American Daniel Libeskind.

In 2002 the commission went to the Japanese architect Toyo Ito, and in 2003 to the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer - who was 96 years old at the time. Last year there was no summer pavilion because the Serpentine was trying to raise money for the highly ambitious scheme of Dutch architects MVRDV to build an artificial grass-covered mountain to completely enclose the gallery. This is MVRDV's novel concept of a summer pavilion, but the project has proved costly and technically challenging and has been postponed until 2006 at the earliest.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 5 July 2005

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