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Photograph: Frank Kaltenbach

Spanish verbena in the London fog: Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Same procedure as every year?
Since 26 June, this year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion has been open to the public in London’s Kensington Gardens. Along with the fifteenth version of the pavilion, gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones is also celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of these special commissions. Spanish architecture couple SelgasCano were clearly inspired by the decorative verbenas from their homeland: the colourful plastic bands are typical for Spanish summer festivals.

Since 2006, Hans Ulrich Obrist has been with the Serpentine team as co-director of exhibitions. He says, »London is a world-class city, which makes it even more astonishing how many great architects never built here: Mies van der Rohe, Gropius or Cedric Price. We wanted to change that, so now every year we invite a different internationally renowned architect to put up a temporary summer pavilion.«

After a successful series of the most diverse concepts possible, the break came in 2012. In the year of London’s Summer Olympics, Herzog & de Meuron worked with Ai Weiwei in a project showing the foundations of former pavilions as a sort of archaeological retrospective.

Does this mean it is becoming more and more difficult to find new ideas for the annual pavilion? Has it all been done before? Just how narrow are the boundaries? For despite a great degree of artistic freedom, a Serpentine Gallery pavilion is still subject to strict rules. In 2004, MVRDV challenged curators with a mountain covering the existing buildings. Ultimately, this project could not be realized.

Julia Peyton-Jones had to announce to a disappointed public that there was no pavilion to photograph. Obrist wants to avoid such PR disasters in future. »The pavilion is not a work of art, but rather one of architecture. I had to learn what this means as much as anyone else. We can’t afford to let the architects go ahead and do whatever they like. Although there is no budget for the pavilion – all the funding comes from donations and the sale of the pavilion – we must stick to a particular cost framework and concentrate on projects that can actually be built.«

When the client knows more than the architect
For SelgasCano, the Serpentine Pavilion was a new experience. »As experienced architects, we are usually the ones who determine the guidelines for a project. In this case, we were working with a client who had already realized the project 13 times. That made us the ‘laypeople’ among a team of pavilion experts,« explains José Selgas, chuckling. »Of course we studied the pavilions designed by our colleagues very closely in order to create something that could stand on its own. Architects using thin foil as a building shell is not only an aesthetic decision, but a pragmatic one as well. It facilitates transport. After four months of exhibition at Kensington Gardens, every pavilion is sold to a sponsor, who rebuilds it at a new location.«

Many pavilions in one – one pavilion from many
»We haven’t built just one pavilion, but several at once,« quips Selgas into a journalist’s microphone during an interview. He strokes his left hand over his lips, unwittingly revealing his bright-yellow watch to the many cameras. Lucía Cano holds her orange handbag made of transparent plastic in both hands. It is just as vivid and, in fact, a perfect match for her stylish summer shoes. Anywhere else, these accessories would at most be grist for the gossip mill, but here they become part of the entire work of art. The pavilion is made of a colourful shell made of translucent ETFE foil.

Kurze Werbepause

This article is taken out of the following magazine:
DETAIL 9/2015
Konzept: Urban Housing

Konzept: Urban Housing

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