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A Look Back At Our Favorite Serpentine Gallery Pavilions

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Every summer since 2000, London’s famed Serpentine Gallery has invited leading international architects to design a temporary pavilion for its lawns.

Involving some of the biggest names from architecture and design world, the annual program has become a prestigious event offering a unique insight into the condition of contemporary architecture. Each pavilion is completed within half a year before being installed on the Gallery’s lawn for three months for the visitors to experience it. In the wake of the unveiling of this year’s pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingles of BIG, we look back at some of our favorite structures from the past two decades.

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BJARKE INGLES(2016)

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All images © Iwan Baan

The highly awarded Danish architect Bjarke Ingles of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) was selected to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion. Taking the basic architectural element of a brick wall as a starting point, Ingels’ aim was to create a contradictory structure: one that is both “free-form yet rigorous, modular yet sculptural, both transparent and opaque, both box and blob.“ Built from stacked fiberglass frames, the pavilion’s walls ‘unzip’ to form a cavernous space for relaxation, play and events. “What we’ve tried to do is create a sort of mountainous landscape on the outside and a cavernous canyon on the inside,” explained Ingels in a recent interview.

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SELGASCANO (2015)

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All images © Naaro / Jim Stephenson

Designed by José Selgas and Lucía Cano, a duo behind the Spanish studio SelgasCano, the 2015 Pavilion provided a playful take on the way people experience architecture. An amorphous and polygonal structure, it was made of multi-colored panels and featured a ‘secret corridor’ between the outer and inner layer of the construction, inviting the visitors to discover its organic form. “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, color and materials,” described the architects.

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SMILJAN RADIC (2014)

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All images © Iwan Baan / John Offenbach

At the end of June 2014, a big cylindrical shell-like structure landed on the Serpentine’s lawn, occupying the 350 square metres of its surface. Rested on large quarry stones, the Pavilion was designed by the Smiljan Radić and had its roots in the Chilean architect’s earlier works. With a café situated inside, the space became the stage for the Galleries’ Park Nights events, a forum for performances of live art, poetry, music, film, literature and theory.

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SOU FUJIMOTO (2013)

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All images © Iwan Baan

Constructed from short white steel poles, the 2013 Pavilion was an intricate three-dimensional structure that seemed to rise up out of the ground like a shimmering matrix. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the youngest designer to be commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery, wanted to merge the man-made construction with the natural surroundings of the park, in an investigation of a new kind of environment. “It is a really fundamental question how architecture is different from nature, or how architecture could be part of nature, or how they could be merged… what are the boundaries between nature and artificial things,” explained the architect.

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All images © Luke Hayes / Iwan Baan

The opening of a 2012 Serpentine’s Pavilion coincided with the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad. Architects from Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the design team behind the Beijing National Stadium, teamed up once again to build an oval platform supported by twelve columns that took visitors beneath the Serpentine’s lawn. The cork-clad plan of the site, based on a mix of the 11 previous pavilions’ layouts offered a nearly archeological experience, inviting the visitors to look back in time and explore the hidden history of the Gallery’s previous pavilions.

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PETER ZUMTHOR (2011)

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All images © Hufton + Crow / Walter Herfst

Our particular favorite, the Pavilion designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor was a simple, contemplative space that highlighted the role of the senses and emotions in experiencing the architecture. With the garden designed by the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf at the heart of it, the building offered a unique escape from the sounds and traffic of busy London. Zumthor, who is known for emphasizing the spiritual and sensual dimension of the architecture, hoped that his design could “help its audience take the time to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, start to talk again – maybe not.”

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SANAA (2009)

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All images © Luke Hayes / Iwan Baan / James Newton

From above, the pavilion designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the leading Japanese architecture studio SANAA looked as if someone had sprinkled a splash of liquid on the Serpentine’s lawn. Set atop a series of delicate columns, a cloud-like structure was covered with reflective aluminium, cleverly blending with its surroundings as it floated around the trees in the park.

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All images © John Offenbach / Luke Hayes / Mikael Olsson

The 2007 Pavilion was made as a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen of Snøhetta. Introducing an artist to the program brought a new perspective on the whole project. A timber-clad structure with a winding ramp situated around it offered a different perspective on the park, in contrast to the one-level pavilions from the previous years. The sides of the ramp featured a very special series of louvres made from white strings, evoking water cascades.

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All images © John Offenbach

Completed in 2006, the structure designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and structural designer Cecil Balmond not only explored material and structure, but also challenged the very definition of a pavilion itself. A spectacular oval helium-filled canopy, the structure floated above the Serpentine’s lawn. The project also included a walled enclosure below the canopy that functioned both as a café and forum for daily public programs, including live talks and film screenings.

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DANIEL LIBESKIND (2001)

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All images © Stephen White / Sylvain Deleu

Designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind, the 2001 pavilion resembles a huge metallic origami figure that folds over itself, forming overlapping spaces. It served as a lecture theatre, cafe and gallery party venue. Created from the sheer aluminium planes and formed in a dynamic sequence, the angular structure was supposed to highlight the beauty of the Kensington Gardens and their connection to the gallery by mirroring its greenery in the pavilion’s reflective surface. It may be hard to believe Libeskind and his team completed the construction in three months – half the usual time the architects have to complete the pavilion.