Excavating the past: The 2012 Serpentine Pavilion

2012 Serpentine Pavilion design by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei

2012 Serpentine Pavilion design by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei

2012 Serpentine Pavilion design by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei

These are images of the recently unveiled 2012 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei. This is the same team responsible for the Beijing Olympic Stadium back in 2008. The Serpentine Pavilion is built each summer adjacent to the Serpentinve Gallery in Hyde Park, London. The pavilion opens sometime toward the beginning of summer (if construction runs smoothly) and stays open into the fall, hosting lectures and planned events while welcoming visitors to wander around and take pictures with their phones. You can tell the architects among the crowd by their excessively expensive DSLRs.

This is the twelfth pavilion built by the gallery. To generate the form of this year’s pavilion, the designers overlaid plans from the previous eleven pavilions onto the site and started to manipulate the drawing into a three-dimensional form. The intersecting shapes were pushed down into the ground or pulled up to support a roof. That roof is covered with a thin sheet of water, and because the is below eye level for folks on the gallery lawn, that water will reflect the sky, trees and people around it.  Below the roof, the history of site is excavated into the ground. The seats, platforms, columns, stairs and  ramps are all derived from the ghosts of other pavilions that have either been moved or destroyed.

Oddly enough, the uniqueness of this summer’s pavilion will stem from references to previously-built pavilions. I’m not aware of any other Serpentine Pavilion that has done this. It’s a moment of self-consciousness that could easily be awkward (like a kind of architectural puberty for the pavilion) or dismissed as too esoteric (here is architecture referencing other works of architecture.) As with other works by Herzog and de Meuron, the exuberance of the work avoids both. There’s something exciting built into their work, or in this case, the ground.

P.S. The roof becomes a dance floor.

Alex Dent

May 8, 2012 / By

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