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The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Three years ago, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, became a new cultural destination in Kensington Gardens, offering a synthesis of old and new in the 900 square metres of new gallery, restaurant and social space. Located seven minutes’ walk from the Serpentine Gallery on the north side of the Serpentine Bridge, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery gave new life to The Magazine, a former gunpowder store during the Napoleonic wars that had not been in public use in its over 200-year history. The original neo-classical building was complemented by a new light and transparent extension.


The project, led by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, contained two distinct parts, namely the conversion of a classical 19th century brick structure, The Magazine, and a 21st century tensile structure. Both structures together have created a spectacular and unique synthesis of old and new in a magic space that had remained under-utilised until the opening of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.


The Magazine was a Grade II listed building comprising two raw-brick barrel-vaulted spaces (where the gunpowder was stored) and a lower square-shaped surrounding structure with a frontal colonnade. The building was in military use until 1963, when it started being used by The Royal Parks as a storage place. In 2010, The Serpentine Gallery won the tender from The Royal Parks and restored the building, renovating and extending it to incorporate designs by Zaha Hadid Architects.


The historic arrangement of The Magazine building as a free-standing pavilion within an enclosure was improved with covered courtyards, which are now exhibition spaces. All non-historic partition walls within the former gunpowder stores were removed, the flat-gauged arches over the entrances reinstated, the historic timber gantry crane maintained, and the vaults are now part of the sequence of gallery spaces. Longitudinal roof lights deliver natural daylight into the whole gallery sequence, with retractable blinds allowing for a complete black-out of the space. These reconstructions were designed in collaboration with heritage specialist Liam O’Connor, and in consultation with English Heritage and Westminster City Council. In addition to the exhibition spaces, the restored Magazine also houses the gallery shop and offices for the Serpentine’s curatorial team.


The spectacularly designed extension contains the restaurant The Magazine. It was designed to complement the calm and solid classical building with a light, transparent, dynamic and distinctly contemporary 21st century space. Here is where the synthesis of old and new is thus a synthesis of contrasts. Even if it is a fully functional permanent building, its volume gives it an ephemeral look, like a temporary structure. It is a tensile structure featuring a tailored, glass-fibre woven textile membrane that stretches between and connects a perimeter ring beam and a set of five interior columns that articulate the roof’s highpoints. The interior is a bright, open space, with light pouring in from all sides and through the five steel columns that open up as light scoops in.


With a total build cost of £14.5 million, this Gallery is named after Dr Mortimer and Dame Theresa Sackler, whose Foundation made the project possible through the largest single gift received by the Serpentine Gallery in its 43-year history. Other funds that helped made this ambitious project possible came from Bloomber Philantropies.


Among upcoming exhibitions that will take place at Serpentine Sackler Gallery is Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings. Stay tuned with SEEN to learn more about this exhibition, and others at Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Kensington Gardens
W Carriage Dr
W2 3XA

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