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Every year since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery in London commissions a globally notable architect who has not yet built in the U.K. to design a summer pavilion in their garden in Kensington.  From conception to completion is six months, after that the structure is dismantled and auctioned off.  The sponsorship of Arup, a design oriented engineering firm with projects around the world, facilitates a high level of experimentation.  The strategies for approaching this project range according to the architects personality and interests but all the pavilions have had two things in common- the meaning and purpose of 'pavilion' in the 21st century and a sometimes straight forward, sometimes enigmatic expression of structure.  The eclectic selection of architects from around the world has created a sampling and overview of the concerns and solutions of architecture at this moment in our history. (tv)

The following text excerpts are from the Serpentine Gallery website.

sanaa / serpentine gallery pavilion 2009

SANAA 2009

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2009 has been designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of leading Japanese architecture practice SANAA. It is sponsored by NetJets Europe.

Describing their structure the architects say: ‘The Pavilion is floating aluminium, drifting freely between the trees like smoke. The reflective canopy undulates across the site, expanding the park and sky. Its appearance changes according to the weather, allowing it to melt into the surroundings. It works as a field of activity with no walls, allowing uninterrupted view across the park and encouraging access from all sides. It is a sheltered extension of the park where people can read, relax and enjoy lovely summer days.’

Sejima and Nishizawa have created a stunning Pavilion that resembles a reflective cloud or a floating pool of water, sitting atop a series of delicate columns. The metal roof structure varies in height, wrapping itself around the trees in the park, reaching up towards the sky and sweeping down almost to the ground in various places. Open and ephemeral in structure, its reflective materials make it sit seamlessly within the natural environment, reflecting both the park and sky around it.

gehry / serpentine gallery pavilion 2008

Frank Gehry 2008

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008 was the first built project in England by legendary architect Frank Gehry. The spectacular structure – designed and engineered in collaboration with Arup – was anchored by four massive steel columns and was comprised of large timber planks and a complex network of overlapping glass planes that created a dramatic, multi-dimensional space. Gehry and his team took inspiration for this year’s Pavilion from a fascinating variety of sources including the elaborate wooden catapults designed by Leonardo da Vinci as well as the striped walls of summer beach huts. Part-amphitheatre, part-promenade, these seemingly random elements make a transformative place for reflection and relaxation by day, and discussion and performance by night.

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion series, which entered its ninth year with Gehry's structure, is the world’s first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind, and is one of the most anticipated events in the international design calendar.

Frank Gehry said: 'The Pavilion is designed as a wooden timber structure that acts as an urban street running from the park to the existing Gallery. Inside the Pavilion, glass canopies are hung from the wooden structure to protect the interior from wind and rain and provide for shade during sunny days. The Pavilion is much like an amphitheatre, designed to serve as a place for live events, music, performance, discussion and debate. As the visitor walks through the Pavilion they have access to terraced seating on both sides of the urban street. In addition to the terraced seating there are two elevated seating pods, which are accessed around the perimeter of the Pavilion. These pods serve as visual markers enclosing the street and can be used as stages, private viewing platforms and dining areas.'

eliason/thorsen serpentine gallery pavilion 2007

Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen (Snohetta) 2007

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007 is designed by the internationally acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson and the award-winning Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, of the architectural practice Snøhetta. This timberclad structure resembles a spinning top and brings a dramatic vertical dimension to the traditional single-level pavilion. A wide spiralling ramp makes two complete turns, allowing visitors to ascend from the Gallery lawn to the highest point for views across Kensington Gardens as well as a bird’s eye view of the chamber below.

Olafur Eliasson’s deep-rooted interest in spatial questions, explored in his artistic practice, has resulted in an increasing engagement with architectural projects. This has led to Kjetil Thorsen and Olafur Eliasson collaborating on a number of projects, including the National Opera House, Oslo, and a recently submitted competition proposal for a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Warsaw.

koolhas/balmond / serpentine gallery pavilion 2007

Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond (with Arup) 2006

The Serpentine Pavilion 2006 was co-designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas and innovative structural designer Cecil Balmond.

The centrepiece of the design was a spectacular ovoid-shaped inflatable canopy that floated above the Gallery’s lawn. Made from translucent material, the canopy was raised into the air or lowered to cover the amphitheatre below according to the weather. A frieze designed by Thomas Demand marked the first collaboration between an artist and the designers of the Pavilion.

The walled enclosure below the canopy functioned both as a café and forum for televised and recorded public programmes including live talks and film screenings in the Time Out Park Nights at the Serpentine Gallery programme.

The Pavilion also housed works by several artists participating in the Uncertain States of America exhibition.

Rem Koolhaas said: The 2006 Serpentine Pavilion is defined by events and activities. We are proposing a space that facilitates the inclusion of individuals in communal dialogue and shared experience.

Cecil Balmond said: These Pavilions have evolved with various structural typologies and materials, provoking a debate on architecture; this year the exploration continues not only with typology and material but with the very definition of Pavilion.

siza / serpentine gallery pavilion 2005

Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura (with Cecil Balmond, with Arup) 2005

‘The temporary pavilion has become unmissable, a rare opportunity to view the work of the finest international architects at first hand. This is how architecture should be exhibited and remembered. See it, and Siza’s exquisite space will stay with you’. Financial Times

In designing the Pavilion, Siza sought to ‘guarantee that the new building – while presenting a totally different architecture – established a “dialogue” with the Neo-classical house’.

The result was a structure that mirrored the domestic scale of the Serpentine and articulated the landscape between the two buildings. The Pavilion was based on a simple rectangular grid, which was distorted to create a dynamic curvaceous form. It comprised interlocking timber beams, a material that accentuated the relationship between the Pavilion and surrounding Park.

MVRDV with Arup, 2004 un-realised

drawings and explanation on MVRDV website:

niemeyer / serpentine gallery pavilion 2003

Oscar Niemeyer, 2003

‘Imagine Garbo or Sinatra in their prime, and performing now. With this week’s opening of the 2003 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, just such a time-warping miracle is taking place.’ Evening Standard

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 was both simple and ingenious. Built in steel, aluminium, concrete and glass, its ruby-red ramp contrasted with the surprise of a partly submerged auditorium, affording views across the park. It also housed specially conceived wall drawings by Niemeyer. The Pavilion conformed to Niemeyer’s principle that every project must be capable of summary in a simple ‘sketch’ and that once the support structure is finished the architecture should be more or less complete.

ito / serpentine gallery pavilion 2002

Toyo Ito with Arup, 2002

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 appeared to be an extremely complex random pattern that proved, upon careful examination, to derive from an algorithm of a cube that expanded as it rotated.

The numerous triangles and trapezoids formed by this system of intersecting lines were clad to be either transparent or translucent, giving a sense of infinitely repeated motion.

Toyo Ito website pictures:

liebeskind / serpentine gallery pavilion 2001

Daniel Libeskind with Arup, 2001

With references to an origami figure, Eighteen Turns was a different kind of temporary structure. Highlighting the beauty of the Gardens and their connection to the Gallery, Eighteen Turns was created from sheer metallic planes assembled in a dynamic sequence. Clad in aluminium panels creating brilliant reflections of light, the structure revealed an entirely new perspective of the greenery of the park and the brick building of the Gallery. Eighteen Turns was a special place of discovery, intimacy and gathering.

hadid / serpentine gallery pavilion 2000

Zaha Hadid, 2000

Zaha Hadid’s structure radically reinvented the accepted idea of a tent or a marquee. It took the form of a triangulated roof structure spanning an impressive internal space of 600sq metres by using a steel primary
structure. A folding form of angular flat planes extending to the ground gave an illusion of solidity while at the same time creating a variety of internal spaces.

More pictures and information is available on the Serpentine Gallery website:

Also Arcspace has more photos of the pavilions and of other built work by each architect:

For all you architecture students / buffs / nerds here are links to which has compiled an extensive library of construction photos for these Serpentine Gallery Pavilions:

Toyo Ito 2002

Oscar Niemeyer, 2003

Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura (with Cecil Balmond, with Arup) 2005

Koolhaas / Balmond 2006

Frank Gehry 2008

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