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The Serpentine Gallery has ‘unzipped’ the striking new Summer Pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and four new Summer Houses commissioned to other international figures in architecture.

The Serpentine Gallery has ‘unzipped’ the striking new Summer Pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and four new Summer Houses commissioned to other international figures in architecture.

FBjarke Ingels; Portrait by Jonas Bie

Every year since the Serpentine’s Architecture Programme started in 2000, a leading architect or team has been invited to design and build a 300 sqm Pavilion on the Gallery’s front lawn for the public to explore. This 16th edition, to be celebrated from 10th June to 9th October 2016, will display the stunning Pavilion ‘Unzipped’. It has been designed by BIG, a Copenhagen/New York practice founded in 2005 by Bjarke Ingels, currently employing around 300 architects, designers, builders and thinkers from all over the world.

But the Summer Pavilion won’t be alone. This year, for the first time, the public will also enjoy another four newly commissioned Summer Houses designed by internationally acclaimed practices. Kunlé Adeyemi (Amsterdam/Lagos); Barkow Leibinger (Berlin/New York); Yona Friedman (Paris); and Asif Khan (London) will each build a 25 sqm temporary structure to serve as a space for shelter and relaxation.

The purpose of this initiative is to introduce contemporary architecture to a wider audience in the built form, rather than through an exhibition of models, drawings and plans. The criteria for the selection of the architects are that they have yet to build a permanent structure in the U.K.

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Design render © Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

The Pavilion, conceived as a flexible open space to be built quickly, with a limited budget, and for a limited period of time, serves as a café and a meeting place during the day, and hosts the Park Nights Programme of Performative Work by artists, writers and musicians at night. BIG’s design takes inspiration from one of the most humble elements of construction typical of London’s architecture: the brick wall. But the old bricks have been substituted with 1,802 glass fibre boxes measuring 400 mm x 500 mm, with 2,890 aluminum extrusions stacked up on top of each other, sliding inwards and outwards in a checkboard pattern, unfolding in two layers. The wall appears to ‘unzip’, or split from itself, as it descends towards the ground, to form a cavity-like space to host the events held over the summer. This ‘unzipping’ of the wall turns the line into a surface, transforming the wall into a space. A complex three-dimensional environment is created, that can be explored and experienced in a variety of ways, inside and
outside. At the top, the wall appears like a straight line, while the bottom of it forms a sheltered valley at the entrance of the Pavilion and undulating hillside towards the Park. BIG have thus created a ‘structure that is free-form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque; both solid box and blob’, as the designers explain.

The light is a substantial feature of BIG’s design. It goes through the fiberglass frames and the gaps between the shifted boxes, as well as through the translucent resin of the fiberglass. All materials, included the wood used on the floors, provide every surface with a warm glow and linear texture, receiving the light during the day and reflecting it at night. As Bjerke Ingels explains, the Pavilion has been designed to change its presence as you move around it and through it. The North-South elevation is a perfect rectangle, entirely transparent and practically immaterial, while the East-West elevation is an undulating sculptural silhouette, completely opaque and material.

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Design render © Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

Along with the 16th Summer Pavilion, this year’s programme has been expanded by commissioning four famous architects to each design a 25 sqm Summer House inspired by the nearby Queen Caroline’s Temple; a classical style summer house built almost 300 years ago, and attributed to William Kent.

Kunlé Adeyemi’s proposal is an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple. According to the architect, born in Nigeria and based in Amsterdam, its design is intended as a tribute to the Temple’s robust form, space and material, recomposed into a new sculptural object. Here, the Temple’s interior void space has been rotated to expose the structure’s neo-classical plan, proportions and architectural form. Adeyemi has chosen prefabricated building blocks assembled from sandstone, similar to the ones used in the Temple to create a room, a doorway and a window for people to interact with the building, the environment and with one another. The carved out void, soft interior and fragmented furniture blocks create comfortable spaces for people to eat, rest or play.

The architectural practice Barkow Leibinger, founded in 1993 by US-born Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger, from Germany, have designed a Summer House inspired by another, now extinct, 18th Century pavilion also attributed to William Kent, which rotated and offered 360 degree views of the Park. For this exhibition, they propose a Summer House organised as four bands of structure beginning with a bench level attached to the ground, a second band of three C-shaped walls crowned by a third and fourth level which forms a roof that cantilevers a tree-like canopy over the smaller footprint, defined by the undulating loops of bench wood. As stated by the architects, the horizontal banding recalls the layered coursing of Kent’s Summer House thus displaying its idiosyncratic nature. The Summer House is constructed with plywood and timber, materials intrinsically in harmony with the looping geometry of the structure.

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Design render © Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

Yona Friedman’s Summer House takes the form of a modular structure that can be assembled and disassembled in different formations. It builds upon the architect’s pioneering project La Ville Spatiale (Spatial City) begun in the late 1950s when he suggested mobile, temporary and lightweight structures instead of the rigid, inflexible and expensive means of traditional architecture in order to meet the needs of the new society that was about to come. Yona Friedman was born in 1923 in Budapest (Hungary). After World War II, he briefly lived and worked in Israel, where he was confronted with the rapid development of mass housing. In his manifesto L’Architecture Mobile, published in 1958, he conceived architecture as a system of construction that allows the occupants to determine the design of their own living spaces within space frame structures.

The Summer House designed by Asif Khan’s London-based practice is inspired by the fact that Queen Caroline’s Temple was aligned toward the direction of the rising sun on 1st March 1683, the Queen’s birthday. This effect would have been amplified by the reflection off the newly-created Serpentine Lake, a possibility which John Rennie’s 1826 bridge obscures. Asif Khan has created a polished metal platform and roof to provide an intimate experience of this lost moment for the visitor. As he explains, three ‘rooms’ of differing spatial quality gently enfilade together like those in the Temple. These are articulated by an undulating line of timber staves which create enclosure and direct views. The ground is a continuous gravel landscape punctuated by stepping stones, subtly elevating and measuring the visitor’s approach when entering the interior. As the structure meets the gravel, it gently blends the horizontal and vertical, to appear as if the Summer House might have grown out of the ground.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses 2016
10 Jun 2016 to 9 Oct 2016
Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Admission: Free

Serpentine Gallery Lawn,
Kensington Gardens,
London W2 3XA