Serpentine Pavilion 2009 by SANAA

Published on Culture 24

SANAA – 2009 Serpentine Pavilion, Hyde Park, London, until October 18 2009

The slim steel pillars of the 2009 Serpentine Pavilion don’t so much hold the structure up as keep it tied down. The roof looks weightless and amorphous. At one point it is anchored just a metre above ground; elsewhere it floats up to the sky as its mirrored surface shimmers through the trees like a breeze.

It is doubtless a hi-tech engineering feat, but one that foregrounds the natural elements of the surrounding park, welcoming in the lawns and reflecting both greenery and the sometimes blue sky. 

On hot summer days this would be an oasis of cool. On rainy days the space provides shelter and a way to remain outdoors and yet dry, which is just as well. There is hardly an interior. Partial glass screens enclose a coffee kiosk and a seating area, and in one place overlap with another see-through shield. The demarcation of space is vague and there are trees both inside and outside.

In places grass gives way to beds of white gravel, an unsurprising Japanese touch. Designers Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who lead the firm SANAA, compare their pavilion to smoke, drifting in and out of the trees, “expanding the park and sky.” Their spec includes colourful, minimal chairs resembling cartoon rabbit heads.

Other SANAA projects include the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and an annexe for the Louvre Museum in Lens, France, due to open in 2012. This is the ninth year in which leading architects have been invited to design a temporary pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery.

The annual commission has previously given London a first chance to see work by the world’s most exciting practitioners. Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Olafur Eliasson have all been involved before. In October, each building gets dismantled. This year there will be less to remove, and the shape of the gap it leaves in the city will be strange.

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