This year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion has been designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei - a partnership that famously brought us the Beijing National Stadium, aka the Bird’s Nest.
In a year that coincidentally brings the Olympics from China to London, the resulting structure is pleasantly surprising. Like all good design it is one simple idea that captures people’s imagination. This one is a story of respect, retracing the footprints of those 11 pavilions that went before.
Half-buried in the ground, an intricate array of angled steps and layers resembles an early Libeskind drawing. The roof, a floating water-filled platform, picks up on the 2009 pavilion by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, but takes on a new, purer feel, firmly grounded by the intricate layers of a real-life archaeological dig.
The underlying concept, however, is not a new one. As a student in the late 80s (and no doubt before) you would often see theoretical projects that included some kind of historical abstraction and overlay of buildings that stood before. The difference here demonstrates how British Architecture has shifted its thinking – in a good way.
The fame and reputation that precede this Swiss-Chinese partnership have given them the courage to do what they believe is right for the site. It is engaging, serene and understated. It is timeless, yet simultaneously routed to a moment in time. More art installation than architecture it conveniently dodges any question of style and therefore walks a fine line between fame and infamy.
It would be so easy to get caught up the Olympic frenzy that is London 2012 and repeat the iconic Beijing wow factor. The new pavilion, however, is iconic by its un-wow factor. Bravo !
by Darren Maddison
all photos / images thanks to : Serpentine Gallery