The annual unveiling of the pavilion in front of the Serpentine Gallery has become a prestigious event in the British architectural calendar. It all started in the year 2000, when Zaha Hadid designed a space for a fundraising event in Hyde Park.
The result was so popular the gallery has invited an architect to reimagine the space every year since, always with the same brief: it must be 300sqm, no taller than the 18m gallery and able to host a cafe and evening entertainment.
“This is a space for experimentation,” says exhibitions curator Amira Gad. “It’s about getting people to experience architecture and materials, instead of models and sketches.” The four Summer Houses that accompany the pavilion must use the nearby Queen Caroline’s temple as their inspiration. Here’s the class of 2016, which are sponsored this year by property developer Northacre.
Described by some as the most spectacular structure yet, The Serpentine Pavilion 2016 was designed by Dane Bjarke Ingels using one of the most basic elements of architecture as its inspiration – the brick wall. Only in Ingels’ version, it’s being unzipped from the bottom up so it opens into a public space.
Boxes of pultruded fibreglass frames are individually made off site, then stacked on top of each other to create “a structure that is free form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque; both solid box and blob,” says Ingels.
Wooden flooring and seating can be found inside, alongside yet more fibreglass boxes, which the architect encourages visitors to move around to make their own furniture. At night, the space is lit up and its dimensions completely transformed with the help of lighting designers and LED specialists Zumtobel.
This structure builds on the lifelong work of Yona Friedman, a Hungarian-French architect, who first published his conceptual manifesto, La Ville Spatiale (Spatial City) in 1956. Now 94 years old, Friedman’s structure sticks to the two main principles of his theory; that buildings should take up the least land necessary for its existence, living in harmony with nature; and that modular structures that allow people the flexibility to live in housing of their own design should be promoted at every opportunity.
Here, he’s created an example using a ‘space-chain’ structure on five levels, made out cubes of artfully-rusted copper hoops. Curled up pieces of chicken wire inhabit the hoops, suggesting potential within the space, and other parts showcase transparent polycarbonate panels showing Friedman sketches. “The Summer House is essentially a movable museum and exhibition,” he says.
While researching the history of Queen Caroline’s temple, this German-American firm discovered a second pavilion on a man-made mountain that was built nearby but has since been destroyed. It was intended for park attendants and rotated mechanically 360 degrees – an impressive feat for the 18th century – to give them a panoramic view of the park.
They’ve emulated this movement with their Summer House, conceived as a series of four undulating structural bands made using plywood and timber. “The logic of generating a structure from loops is a self-generating one and comes from the idea of coiling material in your hands then stacking the coils upon each other,” they say. It doubles as an area for visitors to get some shade while visiting Hyde Park.
Venice Biennale prize-winning Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi has taken Queen Caroline’s temple and literally turned it on its head. This inverted structure uses similar materials to the ones used for the original building – rough sandstone, in particular – but completely alters visitors’ perspective on it in tribute to its robust form and space. Its plan and proportions are exposed as it lies on its side on the grass, while soft, white leather blocks provide something for admirers to lean on nearby as they admire its neo-classical form.
“The carved out void, homely interior and fragmented furniture blocks create comfortable spaces for people to eat, rest or play – in and around the house – all through summer,” says Adeyemi.
At 36, Asif Khan is the youngest architect chosen for the exhibition and the only Brit. In his research, he discovered that Kent angled the temple towards the rising sun on Queen Caroline’s birthday, so he’s attempted a similar feat using a polished metal platform and roof to “provide an intimate experience of this lost moment for the visitor,” according to Khan.
Conceived as a tea house, these surfaces can also be used as tables and chairs and, as the sun rises and sets, the white wooden slats that form the shell of the building cast the interior in striped shadows of light.
The Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses are free to visit in Hyde Park until October 2016; serpentinegalleries.org