Building Study 005: The Serpentine Pavilion, 2013. Sou Fujimoto.
The Serpentine Gallery, in Hyde Park in London, commissions an architect each year to design a temporary pavilion – to sit on the lawn outside the neo-classical gallery throughout the summer. In 2013 the pavilion was designed by Sou Fujimoto.
The ‘building’ comprised a delicate network of cubes, assembled to give an organic montage of form and space. The cubes were 800mm in each direction, formed in 20mm steel bar sections, and all painted white.
The pavilion challenged my preconception of what a ‘building’ is. There were no tangible walls; and no roof. Instead of conventional architectural elements the pavilion (and the spaces around it) were (in)formed by the vague, amorphous mass that was created by those steel cubes. It was a building which enclosed a kind of negative, ‘void’ space – it invited, and required, investigation and interpretation.
The essential idea was to interrogate how the building could affect and contain the space(s) around it – “encasing an infinite domain”1. There was no ‘inside’, or ‘outside’. There was no edge. The articulation between the building and the park was consciously blurry.
“Architecture is not simply about making interior space, nor about exterior space, but to generate relationships between the two”2 (Sou Fujimoto).
The way the cubes were assembled in the pavilion gave varying levels of density. Some of the ‘heavier’ parts created places for sitting or climbing; while larger voids beneath the cubes created places for gathering and meeting. But in all these spaces, there was a consistent, tangible visual connection with the landscape of the park – in other words, one was always able to see the trees.
Apparently, the design was fine-tuned by the architect and his team one cube at a time, to give the optimum combination of mass and light – in relationships of solid to void; of enclosure to openness3.
Consideration was given to maintaining adequate protection from the weather, and for the safety of people moving through, under, and over the pavilion – but that pragmatism didn’t undermine the compelling, poetic aspirations of the design.
The white colour, and cubed forms, sat in confident juxtaposition to the park landscape – giving a pleasing aesthetic tension. That visceral energy between what is ‘made’ and what exists naturally created a delightful and engaging atmosphere in and around the pavilion.
The 2013 Serpentine Pavilion was a brilliant (albeit temporary) exemplar of Sou Fujimoto’s architectural agenda, which can be characterised by a determination to develop “a harmony between artificiality and nature”4.
1 “Sou Fujimoto Futurospective Architecture” Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2013. Pg 207.
2 “Sou Fujimoto Futurospective Architecture” Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2013. Pg 209.
3 “Sou Fujimoto” Phaidon, 2016. Pg 144.
4 “Sou Fujimoto Futurospective Architecture” Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2013. Pg 164.