LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Serpentine Pavilion 2012: Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei


"Like a team of archaeologists," is how Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei describe their role designing the twelfth Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, London.

“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,” say Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei of their original idea when designing the twelfth Serpentine Pavilion, which opened on the lawn of London’s Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens last week. “Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater.”

Working, “like a team of archaeologists,” the creative trio responsible for the iconic Beijing National Stadium (better known as the ‘bird’s nest’) went underground to reveal and reconstruct the foundations of the eleven previous Pavilions. In doing so, they say, “a distinctive landscape emerges which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift.”

The resulting design is therefore based on an unusual diagram of bisecting circles (perhaps from 2007’s Pavilion by Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen), undulating lines (courtesy of 2009’s designers Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA), rectangles (last year’s structure by Peter Zumthor), and other shapes that cannot as easily be explained. An interior of cork was used to cover this strange map while a seemingly floating roof (which, “resembles that of an archaeological site”) is supported at twelve points – one from each pavilion of the past and another position chosen at random to represent the latest construction. The final component of the Serpentine Pavilion 2012 is a reflecting pool on the upper surface of the roof that can be emptied of water for special events such as the famous Serpentine Gallery Summer Party.

Low in profile and quiet in its volumes, Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei have literally taken the foundations of a roll call of starchitects (Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Toyo Ito are just some of the other architects who have been invited to create a Serpentine Pavilion since the project was launched in 2000) and created something altogether different and discreet.

Open until October 2012, Kensington Gardens, London

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