The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
8 June - 20 October 2013
Review by Anneka French
The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto is an elegant geometric construction of glass and steel. Taking a simple grid as a point of departure, Fujimoto has extended this form in three dimensions to build a large complex cloud-like structure, at once weightless and dense. Its open sculptural form, the use of transparent and semi-transparent materials, and the way it gently shifts according to light and weather, allow the pavilion (which has no discernible walls and the flimsiest of roofs) to take on a highly organic quality that roots this space in its green and leafy landscape.
Fujimoto often describes his buildings, such as House NA, in terms of trees with branches that form separate yet interconnected rooms. This, and his other favoured metaphors that combine the organic with the architectural- nests and caves- aptly describe the essence of this new commission. Such language foregrounds consideration of the pavilion’s site in Kensington Gardens as a place of both natural and man-made space.
The pavilion operates on a number of conceptual and literal levels. It can be viewed from a distance, climbed over, sat on and hidden beneath. There is an evident playfulness at work. Moving through the pavilion’s myriad poles and cubes frames one’s view of the fabrication and the surrounding landscape in an ever changing pattern, like digitally designed lace. Both sky and ground can be seen from every point in the permeable form, causing, at times, an almost dizzying effect. An impression is formed of both structure and visitor being suspended in mid-air by the glass brick platforms on which one walks. This requires an element of trust in the pavilion’s structural integrity. As each modular step is just that tiny bit too big to be climbed easily, ascending or descending the formal network requires a little effort, putting one in mind of climbing a tree or a child’s climbing frame. This almost seamless integration of man, nature and architecture is hugely effective.
Fujimoto’s pavilion is also an inviting social arena with a small café inside. The in-built flexibility of the space allows the audience to (almost) freely navigate their own path around, over and within it. Indeed, Fujimoto has discussed his intention to create a pavilion whereby each visitor can, ‘find a singular, favourite space,’ amongst the structure. The notion engenders a psychological and emotional connection to the space, as the viewer acquires a sense of ownership over their experience of it.
The matrix-like formation of the structure appears in flux, or in a state of de/construction, as its edges seem to dissolve into the landscape. The temporary and transient nature of the annual pavilion is reiterated in the architect’s scaffold-type form which is only inhabited by the viewer for a limited period of time. Nevertheless, the audience is eager to interact and participate in the work, ultimately investing this architectural space with life, and a function beyond the purely aesthetic. Fujimoto’s pavilion is a beautiful and generous space which offers much to experience and consider.