Looking forward, looking back: 12 years of the Serpentine summer pavilion (a typology)

This year’s recently unveiled Serpentine pavilion design by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron is a wonderfully poetic exploration into the history and context of the pavilion project itself. Since 2000, when the Serpentine Gallery initiated its celebrated annual commission, the summer pavilion has become an internationally-known site for experimentation by some of the world’s most well-respected artists and architects, including Zaha Hadid, Olafur Eliasson, SANAA, and most recently, Peter Zumthor.

A largely circular space carved out of the ground and sheathed in cork will take its idiosyncratic maze-like form from the layered foundation drawings of the eleven past pavilions. (Previous plans to repurpose existing foundations were scrapped when none were found upon excavation, but the essential concept of the design has not changed.) Floating a few feet above grade, the rain-collecting roof will be drained as needed to do double duty as an open-air performance space. Rooted in the subterranean history of the site at the same time that it receives and reflects the London skies above, the pavilion becomes a physical and conceptual link between earth and sky, past and future, known and unknown, end and beginning.

Don’t be misled by the widely circulated photo of the maquette (above), which distracts with an undue emphasis on the main gallery building and a few too many plastic-y white people inside—this is a highly original, visually impactful, and conceptually thoughtful design that has the potential to redefine the idea of what a pavilion can be. We look forward to seeing its final expression this summer, and are planning to update the blog with photos when they are released.

With the 2012 pavilion’s incorporation of past pavilion designs into its own plan, we felt it apropos to gather together a series of pavilion images going back to the first design by Zaha Hadid. This updates our previous post, A decade+ of Serpentine summer pavilions, which originally linked to an Architizer post also featuring images of all the past pavilions. Our post differs from Architizer’s and other online galleries (some of which we’ve linked to here) in its intentional selection and arrangement of images as a typology of sorts, the purpose of which is to stimulate thinking on features of past pavilion foundations that Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron may encounter and incorporate. (For the sake of thoroughness, we’ve also included MVRDV’s unrealized design for the 2004 pavilion, as well as Zaha Hadid’s “pre-pavilion” installation from 2007, which may or may not factor in the 2012 team’s design considerations.)

2000 pavilion by Zaha Hadid, photo by Dafydd Jones

2001 pavilion by Daniel Libeskind with Arup, photo by Hélène Binet

2002 pavilion by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond with Arup

2003 pavilion by Oscar Niemeyer, photo by Richard Bryant

2004 pavilion by MVRDV (unrealized)

2005 pavilion by Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura with Cecil Balmond, photo by Charlie Brigante

2006 pavilion by Rem Koolhaas with Cecil Balmond of Arup

2007 “pre-pavilion” Lilas by Zaha Hadid by atharabidi

2007 pavilion by Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen

2008 pavilion by Frank Gehry

2009 pavilion by Kazuyo Sejima and Riyue Nishizawa of SANAA

2010  pavilion by Jean Nouvel

2011 pavilion by Peter Zumthor

Read Jacques Herzog’s thoughts on the design process at The Architect’s Journal

For additional photos including interiors, see our Serpentine Summer Pavilions board on Pinterest

For information and descriptions of all completed pavilions plus Zaha Hadid’s Lilas installation, see the Serpentine Gallery website

Did you know that the pavilions are sold at the end of each season and that this covers 40% of the pavilion’s building costs? Read about where some of them have ended up (appended to a review of Rem Koolhaas’ 2006 pavilion), at The Guardian

Reviews of the first 10 pavilions by Rowan Moore for The Observer

Our previous post on the Serpentine pavilion links to Daniel Libeskind’s and Rem Koolhaas’ websites

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