Serpentine Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, 2015

Each summer the Serpentine gallery invites an architect to create a temporary 300 square metre structure to be used as a cafe for chilling out, education and entertainment and allows a mere six months from commission to completion. The first pavilion in 2000 was by Zaha Hadid and many other big names followed, with commissions by Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Jean Nouvel, among others.


Spanish architectural duo Selgascano‘s new Serpentine pavilion is the 15th on the site and looks fun; it is an eye-catching riot of colours (19 in total) in a snake-like structure of plastic and steel that perhaps wouldn’t be out of place in an amusement park. That was my first observation as I approached.  My second thought, once inside the translucent plastic construction, was that it could double as a sauna if the sun was shining whereas heavy rain could make it a tad noisy.  I was told that the four tunnels and circular windows would allow for decent air circulation. I wasn’t convinced that with the sun out and a sizeable crowd inside that things wouldn’t get a little sweaty.  However, setting aside these minor quibbles, I reminded myself that the Serpentine Pavilion is a temporary structure which always delivers something new and interesting and this year is no exception.

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Madrid-based husband and wife Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano wanted to design a pavilion that would ‘allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials.’  The pavilion is made up of six completely different curved sections supported by steel with sections of colourful woven threads.  Selgascano’s design was inspired by the Tube – the London underground so hoping Pavilion visitors will enter ‘in their best mood, with total freedom, uninhibited, to get the best possible sensations and memories’ could be viewed as naively optimistic!

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Although the duo represented Spain at the International architecture biennale in Venice in 2012, they are not widely known outside of Spain. No doubt the Serpentine Pavilion will change that. The Serpentine pavilion is Selgascano’s second UK project.  Second Home, a new creative workspace in east London, opened late last year.  Curved transparent walls are a feature of this former carpet factory off Brick Lane, now home to a range of tech firms.

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As Richard Rogers has said, good public space ‘civilises the city, bringing colour, light and joy to our everyday lives’.  Indeed Selgascano’s Serpentine Pavilion does all that.

25 June – 18 October

Words and photos by Joanne Shurvell

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