The Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses

Zaha Hadid, the architect of the first temporary Serpentine Pavilion in 2000, was followed by other prominent names, including Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Oscar NiemeyerPeter Zumthor and Herzog and De Meuron, the architects of the new Tate Modern.

BIG Pavilion Image: © Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion by BIG. Photo © Iwan Baan

Compared to Spanish architect duo’s Selgascano’s riot of colour in plastic and steel last year, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion looks positively elegant and demure in contrast. The 16th of these ‘pop-up’ architectural commissions in Kensington Gardens is by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and is the Danish firm’s first UK project.

Serpentine Pavilion by BIG ©David Morris

Serpentine Pavilion by BIG ©David Morris

BIG’s triangular shaped Pavilion with its impressive pointed spire consists of 1,800 boxes made of extruded fibreglass stacked on top of each other. The architects said they decided to work with a very basic structure, the brick wall and then pull it apart to form a cavity within. They describe the process as ‘unzipping the wall’, transforming a straight line into a three-dimensional space. Inside the Pavilion is the event space and cafe one comes to expect each year and there are entrances at both ends.

Serpentine Pavilion by BIG

Serpentine Pavilion by BIG ©Joanne Shurvell

It was an ambitious project that was not actually completed in the tight six-month time period allowed. In fact there were builders tinkering with the exterior the day I was there, the cafe was not yet opened and this was a week or so after it had officially opened on 10 June. However, if the installation proved trickier than anticipated, BIG have cleverly planned the structure to be easily dismantled and shipped to its foreign buyer at the end of its London residency.

@SerpentineUK new #pavilion #serpentinepavilion

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Also this year, the Serpentine gallery commissioned four architects to create ‘summer houses’ inspired by the nearby Queen Caroline’s Temple, a classical style building designed by William Kent in 1734.

Looking very different from my snowy winter photo.

Queen Caroline’s Temple: Looking very different from my snowy winter photo

Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi’s Summer House made of sandstone blocks is an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s house. Adeyemi explains that his ‘design aims to fulfil the simple primary purpose of a Summer House: a space for shelter and relaxation. The design is based on projecting an inverse replica of the historic Queen Caroline’s Temple – a tribute to its robust form, space and material, recomposed into a new architectural language.’


Kunlé Adeyemi’s Summer House © Iwan Baan

The looped timber and steel structure of the Summer House by Berlin duo Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger is based on a second pavilion made for Queen Caroline which is no longer there. The Queen’s pavilion rotated 360 degrees on the top of a small man-made hill, offering panoramic views of the park.


Berlin duo Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger’s Summer House © Iwan Baan

Hungarian born Yona Friedman‘s Summer House was inspired by his project La Ville Spatiale (Spacial City) begun in the late 1950s. He describes his modular wire structure as ‘a movable museum and exhibition space’ that can be assembled and disassembled in different formations.

Yona Friedman's Summer House

Yona Friedman’s Summer House © Iwan Baan

London architect Asif Khan‘s Summer House is a circular structure made of timber staves which allow views of the Serpentine lake and its gravel floor suggests the structure grew out of the ground.

Asif Khan's Summer House

Asif Khan’s Summer House © Iwan Baan

Any trip to the Pavilion and summer houses should be followed by visits to Alex Katz’s and Etel Adnan’s brilliant painting shows at the Serpentine galleries (on until 11 September).

The Serpentine Pavilion and Summer HousesUntil 9 October 2016

Words: Joanne Shurvell

Photos: Iwan Baan, Joanne Shurvell, David Morris,

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