Sou Fujimoto: Containing Nothingness

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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.

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In dialogue with the Serpentine Gallery 01.
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In dialogue with the Serpentine Gallery 02.

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.

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Detail 01. Engaging with the trees.

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.

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Climbing 01.
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Climbing 02.
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Detail 02. Non-conventional architectural matter.
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In dialogue with the park.
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Detail 03. Density and enclosure.
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Detail 04. Engaging with the infinite sky.


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.

25 thoughts on “Sou Fujimoto: Containing Nothingness”

  1. What a wonderful post…I so wish I could see this installation in person but I think I will miss it as I am not going to London until the summer. But imagine, for a grid lover like me 🙂
    Thank you for making me travel through your blog and pictures. As a token of how much I appreciate your wonderful blogs, I’ve nominated your blog for the Sunshine Blogger Awards 🙂
    You can read more about how to accept it here –
    A nice way to spread the love of art and architecture we share 🙂 All the best, Ingrid

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just thinking… if you have time to take a look I’ve written posts on two other buildings which develop that simple / complex paradox – The National Theatre (also in London) and The Casa Das Mudas in Madeira. I’d love to know what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks really interesting but no doubt it’s one of those pieces where you really need to see it to appreciate it. I can wrap my head around the concept, the overpowering magnitude of all that white sort of makes my head ache a little though.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmm, I’m not sure. I think the photos do give a good representation of the reality – but in this case the building is very unconventional, so that makes it rather difficult to ‘read’, I think.

        The other interesting aspect is that this ‘building’ only existed for a few months – so we can’t go back for another look. I really enjoy that notion!


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