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Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 – Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei at Hyde Park

Every summer, the Serpentine Gallery inside London’s Hyde Park commissions a temporary pavilion to be constructed and placed next the gallery for folks to not only ponder but to utilize for picnics, a bit of shade and simply an extra spot to sit in the park. This year’s pavilion is the 12th in the annual series and is a collaboration between world famous Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei, and the Swiss architect team, Herzog & de Meuron.

The result of this international pairing is a pavilion inviting visitors to venture just below the surface of the Serpentine’s lawn and explore the hidden history of its previous Pavilions. 11 columns characterizing each past Pavilion and a 12th column representing the current structure support, a platform roof with a pool hovering just 1.5 metres above the ground. The Pavilion’s interior is laid with cork, a sustainable building material chosen for its unique qualities and to echo the excavated earth. Whether or not it was part of the design brief, the cork also provides an especially cushy place to sit – almost as nice as sitting on the grass but a lot neater.

Compared to past commissions, the 2012 pavilion is more subtle and has received considerable criticism for delivering less “wow” (and for its pool of water unintentionally drawing insects). Still, it’s a contemplative and restful place (and the bugs weren’t bad at all during this blogger’s visit) and feels less intrusive and big for the sake of being big as previous pavilions.
The Serpentine commission is not the first time that Ai Weiwei has worked with Herzog & de Meuron. Together, they were responsible for the celebrated Beijing National Stadium (aka the “Bird’s Nest”) which was built for the 2008 Olympic Games and won the prestigious RIBA Lubetkin Prize. However, the pavilion is Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s first collaboratively built structure in the UK.
As political activist, Ai Weiwei is currently not actually allowed leave Beijing (due to the government cracking down on his outspoken stance), much of the collaborating between him and the architects and those involved at the Serpentine took place over Skype, which according to Ai turned out to be an “efficient” way to approach the project.

The 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion remains until October 14, 2012 and is free to visit. Find out more at serpentinegallery.org.

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photo: Chris Osburn

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