The Serpentine Gallery has exploded in a rainbow of colours for the 15th anniversary of its popular Pavilion commission. This year’s ‘starchitects’, Spanish duo Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano, partners in Selgascano have chosen light, colour and playfulness to mark the milestone. Selgascano’s design is an amorphous, double-skinned, polygonal structure made up of translucent panels, multi-coloured fluorine-based polymer (ETFE) woven and wrapped like webbing. The gallery might need to keep an eye on its inquisitive younger visitors who will no doubt be tempted to pull or tug at the array of colourful tapes that swaddles the structure.
Discover the ‘secret corridor’ between the outer and inner layer of the structure into the Pavilion’s colourful interior. You might sense the similarity between meandering through London’s underground system with its many layered, chaotic but structured flow. You are immediately enveloped by a sense of fun, a kaleidoscope of shimmering colours even on a dank London day.
“We are also very much aware of the Pavilion’s anniversary in our design for the 15th annual commission. The structure therefore had to be – without resembling previous Pavilions – a tribute to them all and a homage to all the stories told within those designs.” – Selgascano
The architects, Selgas and Cano bound about their creation like two little kids in a toy shop obliging photographers and interviewers. They want the public to “experience architecture through simple elements; light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials”. They were also minded to pay an homage to their predecessors through the design. “We are also very much aware of the Pavilion’s anniversary in our design for the 15th annual commission. The structure therefore had to be – without resembling previous Pavilions – a tribute to them all and a homage to all the stories told within those designs.”
Conceived by Gallery Director Julia Peyton-Jones in 2000 with a marquee designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid the summer showpiece has gone on to challenge the wits, imagination and skills of some of the word’s most respected architects. From Daniel Libeskind, Oscar Niemayer, Rem Koolhaas to Olafur Eliasson, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel.
Peyton-Jones described the hot house atmosphere under which the pavilions are conceived in a diary for the Financial Times: “It is like building a new wing for the gallery each year and the choice of the architect is key to its success.
“They have to be able to work at breakneck speed – the whole thing takes six months, from the moment they’re invited to do the project to the Pavilion’s opening. And they need to have the ability to devote significant resources to it: a team in their office, yes, but principally their time, focus and attention.”
Serpentine Pavilion Facts
- Annual commission conceived by Director Julia Peyton-Jones in 2000.
- Landmark temporary structures by internationally renowned architects who have never completed a structure in the UK.
- Attracts up to 300,000 visitors every summer, featuring regularly as one of the ten most visited architectural and design exhibitions in the world.
- Each Pavilion takes six months from commission to completion.
- Pavilions are paid for by sponsorship and philanthropists.
- Sale of the structure does not cover more than 40% of the costs.
- Park nights is an annual series of events staged on selected Friday nights throughout summer in the Pavilion.
Julia Peyton-Jones: Mona Lisa in the Park
A-list: The Serpentine Gallery has attracted the likes of Erin O’Connor, Diana, Princess of Wales, Damien Hirst and Tara Palmer-Tompkinson
She glides around like a gazelle as she fields questions from the assembled press, bright-red lipstick, a deck of beads arranged neatly around her neck and a black beret perched on her head. One of London’s most powerful and connected art figures settles her diminutive frame into the chair ready to be grilled for the umpteenth time about her newest baby. Call me Julia she says softly as she pats my legs affectionately.
She has been credited for literally transforming the barren landscape of this obscure part of Kensington Gardens into one of the world’s most visited spots. And she is not shy at taking the credit. “I thought about it. I came up with the initial idea,” she tells WLT. She was however coy about her favourite pavilion so far, “I’m not going to answer that question because the one that I work on is always my favourite.”
She will put design at the heart of any conversation about alleviating the housing shortage in London. She does not see shelter through the prisms of an asset class or structures to be gawped at. The work of the Serpentine, she stresses, is to communicate the work of the commissioned architects through the pavilions. The structures are eventually sold off with proceeds plowed back into the gallery’s work.
She is plucked away by one of her assistants mid-sentence to answer an urgent phonecall but remarks that these are important questions she would like to revisit. Some of which the gallery has been seeking answers to with its varied programme of education, talks and commissions.
Indeed the Serpentine Gallery has come a long way since it was opened in 1970, a former tea pavilion built by the architect J Grey West in 1933. Since she became gallery director in 1991 Peyton-Jones has attracted the great and the good and put on world-class exhibitions. The works of Man Ray, Jean Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Bridget Riley, Anish Kapoor, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst and many more reknowned artists have all appeared in the Grade II listed building. It was here that late Diana, Princess of Wales stepped out as a newly single, confident woman after her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir.
Her next big event is the annual Serpentine summer party which she says will be next Thursday. That is the one party where life imitates art and A-list celebs beg, borrow or steal to attend. Creative powerhouse Pharrel Williams was among the in-crowd last year. Be prepared for more surprises from the ‘hostess with the mostest’. – BB
Serpentine Pavilion 2015 by Selgascano, Kensington Gardens W2, 25 June – 18 October 2015