Round-Up: The Serpentine Pavilion Through the Years

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Lasting for close to two decades now, the annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Exhibition has become one of the most anticipated architectural events in London and for the global architecture community. Each of the previous eighteen pavilions have been thought-provoking, leaving an indelible mark and strong message to the architectural community. And even though each of the past pavilions are removed from the site after their short summer stints to occupy far-flung private estates, they continue to be shared through photographs, and in architectural lectures. With the launch of the 18th Pavilion, we take a look back at all the previous pavilions and their significance to the architecturally-minded public.  The premise behind the creation of the pavilions is simple: an architect who has not built in the UK is given the opportunity to showcase their talents and hopefully gain exposure. They are invited to build a temporary pavilion on the grounds of the
Serpentine Pavilion 2000. Image © Helene Binet
Serpentine Pavilion 2001. Image © Helene Binet
Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu
Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu
Serpentine Pavilion 2003. Image © Sylvain Deleu
Serpentine Pavilion 2004 (unbuilt). Image Courtesy of MVRDV
Serpentine Pavilion 2005. Image © Sylvain Deleu
Serpentine Pavilion 2006. Image © John Offenbach
Serpentine Pavilion 2007. Image © Luke Hayes
Serpentine Pavilion 2008. Image © John Offenbach
Serpentine Pavilion 2009. Image © Claire Byrne
Serpentine Pavilion 2010. Image © John Offenbach
Serpentine Pavilion 2011. Image © John Offenbach
Serpentine Pavilion 2012. Image © Iwan Baan
Serpentine Pavilion 2013. Image © Iwan Baan
Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex
Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex
Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © NAARO
Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © Iwan Baan
Serpentine Pavilion 2016. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Serpentine Pavilion 2017. Image © Iwan Baan
Serpentine Pavilion 2018. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Gallery in Hyde Park London, England. Each invited architect is given six months, within receiving the commission, to construct the pavilion, then the exhibit is opened for the public’s exploration for the remainder of the summer. The program’s short timeline and limited scope creates the perfect environment for experimentation—safely distanced from pragmatic functions, this is architecture for the sake of architecture. For 19 years, the Serpentine Gallery has provided a significant platform from which to publicize architectural experimentation and avant-gardism, an arrangement from which the designers and the public benefit.

2000: Zaha Hadid

Serpentine Pavilion 2000. Image © Helene Binet Serpentine Pavilion 2000. Image © Helene Binet

Perhaps there is no architect more perfect than the late Zaha Hadid to set the tone for the Pavilion program. Simultaneously praised and dismissed by many in her early career as a “paper architect,” Hadid is well-known for wild geometries and highly experimental designs. For her first built project in her home country, the now world-famous architect created a tent-like structure that was supported by a triangulated framework.

2001: Daniel Libeskind with Cecil Balmond

Serpentine Pavilion 2001. Image © Helene Binet Serpentine Pavilion 2001. Image © Helene Binet

Entitled “Eighteen Turns,” Libeskind’s Serpentine pavilion was created from sheer metallic planes that were assembled in a dynamic sequence—the same origami-like operations and rigid metal facade that we see in a more significant project: The Berlin Jewish Museum. Having been launched within the same year, it begs to be asked whether the pavilion was simply inspired by the design of the museum, or whether the pavilion was deliberately designed to serve as a teaser for a highly-anticipated, larger and more permanent project to come.

2002: Toyo Ito with Cecil Balmond

Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu
Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu Serpentine Pavilion 2002. Image © Sylvain Deleu

Though it appears to comprise of random triangular and trapezoidal shapes, the facade of the Ito's Pavilion was in fact based on an algorithm derived from a cube which expands as it rotates. The interplay between light, dark, transparent, translucent and solid created an interesting spatial condition in the interior. 

2003: Oscar Niemeyer

Serpentine Pavilion 2003. Image © Sylvain Deleu Serpentine Pavilion 2003. Image © Sylvain Deleu

Oscar Niemeyer’s Pavilion took us back to the golden age of Modernism. Built in concrete, painted in white and accessed by a ramp, the designer seemingly created an exhibit of the very elements of his notable mid-century buildings. The famous Brazilian architect, whose sketches are widely published, held the principle that every project must be simple enough to be summarized in a simple illustration and that is certainly applicable in this exhibit.

2004: MVRDV (unbuilt)

Serpentine Pavilion 2004 (unbuilt). Image Courtesy of MVRDV Serpentine Pavilion 2004 (unbuilt). Image Courtesy of MVRDV

Due to time and budgetary constraints, MVRDV was unable to realize their plan of building a mountainous structure.

2005: Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura

Serpentine Pavilion 2005. Image © Sylvain Deleu Serpentine Pavilion 2005. Image © Sylvain Deleu

This duo sought to pay homage to the Serpentine Gallery’s permanent neo-classical building and the hilly landscape of the site. The resulting design was achieved through a rectangular grid which has been distorted to created curvaceous forms.

2006: Rem Koolhaas

Serpentine Pavilion 2006. Image © John Offenbach Serpentine Pavilion 2006. Image © John Offenbach

Koolhaas, in partnership with Cecil Balmond, created a single-level circular pavilion which was protected from the elements by an “ovoid-shaped” inflatable canopy that would be lowered, or floated above the pavilion as a way to temper the effects of the daily weather. With a longer run than the preceding pavilions, Koolhaas envisioned a busy program for the pavilion, including 24-hour interviews. The architect made a case for the pavilion as a venue for attraction rather than just being the attraction itself.

2007: Olaffur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen

Serpentine Pavilion 2007. Image © Luke Hayes Serpentine Pavilion 2007. Image © Luke Hayes

The artist-architect collaboration between Eliasson and Thorsen of Snøhetta created another program-filled pavilion—causing the structure to be late for the Serpentine's annual Summer Party which coincides with the pavilions' launch. The timber clad multi-story pavilion, which was shaped like a spinning top, was the the most elaborate of all the pavilions up to this point and contained weekly public "experiments" lead by artists, scientists and practitioners.

2008: Frank Gehry

Serpentine Pavilion 2008. Image © John Offenbach Serpentine Pavilion 2008. Image © John Offenbach

Though Gehry's Pavilion could easily be dismissed as just another iteration of his "wild" architecture he does find ways to challenge his work. While his pre-existing projects could be interpreted as an "explosion" of forms, Gehry's pavilion was an inversion of that idea. The glass canopies of the Pavilion seemingly "implode" within a well-articulated framework. Collaborating for the first time with his son Samuel, the resulting structure was imagined to be a hybrid between an urban street leading to the Serpentine gallery and an amphitheater hosting a suite of talks and events.

2009: SANAA

Serpentine Pavilion 2009. Image © Claire Byrne Serpentine Pavilion 2009. Image © Claire Byrne

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa's design was perhaps the most straight-forward and structurally simple: a flat piece of highly-reflective aluminum supported by delicate columns. But in its simplicity their structure appears to "soar like smoke, melt like a sheet of metal, drift like a cloud, or flow like water." Seen in plan view, they also incorporated a recurring form in their work: a conglomeration of curvilinear blob-like shapes.

2010: Jean Nouvel

Serpentine Pavilion 2010. Image © John Offenbach Serpentine Pavilion 2010. Image © John Offenbach

Striking in red is Jean Nouvel’s pavilion for 2010 which coincided with the Serpentine Gallery's 40th anniversary. The pavilion, which contained an auditorium, a cafe, and general public spaces reads the most as a "regular" building, though in the context of the Serpentine Pavilions that isn't saying much. The vividly-colored polycarbonate and fabric structure embodied a playful spirit and contrasts with the green lawn throughout Kensington Garden similar to Bernard Tschumi's Parc de la Villette.

2011: Peter Zumthor

Serpentine Pavilion 2011. Image © John Offenbach Serpentine Pavilion 2011. Image © John Offenbach

Zumthor continued his play on solids and voids during his turn at the Serpentine Pavilion. Much like his previous work such as in the Therme Vals, the interplay became a means of creating various effects and setting contemplative or visceral moments within his buildings. Zumthor ultimately set out to realize a hortus conclusus: an enclosed garden meant to act as an intimate space that was designed by Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf.

2012: Ai WeiWei and Herzog & De Meuron

Serpentine Pavilion 2012. Image © Iwan Baan Serpentine Pavilion 2012. Image © Iwan Baan

Given the huge success of the previous collaboration between the Chinese artist and the Swiss architects during the Beijing Olympic Games, the launch of their first collaborative work in the UK was much-anticipated, as it also coincided with the London 2012 Games. With more than 10 predecessors on the Pavilion Program, the team took an archaeological approach. Digging a little over 5-feet below grade, a reflective floating platform was erected over 12 uniquely designed columns that pay homage to the 11 previous pavilions at Serpentine and one to represent itself. The pavilion read as an archaeological dig-site, encouraging the spectators to reflect about the Serpentine's past.

2013: Sou Fujimoto

Serpentine Pavilion 2013. Image © Iwan Baan Serpentine Pavilion 2013. Image © Iwan Baan

Aptly nicknamed “the cloud,” Fujimoto’s Pavilion was an irregularly-shaped semi-transparent blob composed of light grid modules. The design built on a common theme of the architect’s work which often interrogates the relationship of architecture and nature. In other ways, the pavilion was strongly reminiscent of his most recent successful project at the time: House NA.

2014: Smiljan Radic

Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex
Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex Serpentine Pavilion 2014. Image © George Rex

Of all the chosen architects, Chilean Smiljan Radic was the least-known before receiving the Serpentine commission, and from the least-known came arguably the most out-of-this-world. In an article by The Guardian, Radic’s design was likened to “a bulbous white cocoon, still sticky with the excretions of whatever creature made it,” but the "weird” structure had more thoughtful underpinnings. Responding to the thick and layered assemblies of buildings in the UK, Radic wanted to create an extremely thin building envelope. With a fiberglass skin of just 10 mm thick, the donut-shaped structure was juxtaposed with boulders scattered throughout the site.

2015: SelgasCano

Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © NAARO Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © NAARO
Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © Iwan Baan Serpentine Pavilion 2015. Image © Iwan Baan

Following the weirdest but most critically-acclaimed pavilion was perhaps the most critiqued. José Selgas and Lucía Cano of the Spain-based studio SelgasCano were commissioned for the Pavilion Program's crystal anniversary. The pair envisioned a polyamorphous polygonal structure consisting of panels of woven translucent or multi-colored ETFE. Like a human-sized cat's tube toy, the structure had multiple points of entry and exit and consisted of a number of different corridors. Hinging on the concept of pure visitor experience, the duo set out to build the structure in the most simple and elemental of manners: structure, light, transparency, shadows, change, and surprise.

2016: Bjarke Ingels

Serpentine Pavilion 2016. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu Serpentine Pavilion 2016. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

BIG's 2016 commission plays with space and dimension, transforming from a single line of tubular "bricks" at its top to an expansive space containing a cafe and public space below. The pavilion is also accompanied by four "summer houses" that have each been designed by an architect who has yet to build a permanent building in England, respectively being Kunlé Adeyemi, Barkow Leibinger, Yona Friedman, and Asif Khan.

2017: Diébédo Francis Kéré

Serpentine Pavilion 2017. Image © Iwan Baan Serpentine Pavilion 2017. Image © Iwan Baan

Conceived as a micro cosmos—"a community structure within Kensington Gardens"—the pavilion has been designed to consciously fuse cultural references from Kéré's home town of Gando in Burkino Faso, with "experimental construction techniques." The architect hopes that the pavilion, as a social condenser, "will become a beacon of light, a symbol of storytelling and togetherness."

2018: Frida Escobedo

Serpentine Pavilion 2018. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu Serpentine Pavilion 2018. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Escobedo's design, which fuses elements typical to Mexican architecture with local London references, features a courtyard enclosed by two rectangular volumes constructed from cement roof tiles. These tiles are stacked to form a celosia, a type of wall common to Mexican architecture which is permeable, allowing ventilation and views to the other side.
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