2015 Serpentine Pavilion Opens to the Public


It’s something of a Spanish Summer over in London for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Madrid-based SelgasCano, opened to the public yesterday. Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery has invited famous architects like Sou Fujimoto, Jean Nouvel, Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Wei Wei, Peter Zumthor, SANAA, Zaha Hadid, and most recently Smiljan Radic to design the temporary outdoor structure, which continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year at the Gallery’s Kensington Gardens in London. The design criteria has remained unchanged since the beginning of the folly-building tradition: The pavilion must be a flexible multi-functional social space with a cafe.

Because we can’t visit this year’s Serpentine Pavilion ourselves, we’re presenting the highlights of critical views on the building from some of the United Kingdom’s leading architecture critics: Olly Wainwright from the Guardian, Edwin Heathcote from the Financial Times, and Ellis Woodman from the Telegraph.

Wainwright observes:

“In places, it looks like a chrysalis has been torn open then bandaged with plastic webbing, as if patching up the holes where the creature squirmed its way out. Elsewhere, the tunnels stretch out into gaping orifices, supercharged wormholes ready to suck you into a parallel dimension. Step inside and it feels like exploring the intestines of a slippery deep-sea creature, with stretchy membrane walls giving off an opalescent glimmer.”

“The architects say the design was also inspired by the barely controlled chaos of the London Underground, and there is a feeling of the tube’s maze-like madness in their twisting tunnels, as visitors loop through the multiple layers of plastic sheeting, trying to find out how each passage connects.”

“With its multiple orifices and alluring glimpses around corners, it is also an Instagrammer’s paradise, something that is no coincidence: Selgas admits that how it would be photographed played a key part in the composition. But the architects also see the project as a work-in-progress, ‘a chance to really experiment hard and push a material to its limits,’ rather than to craft a complete, polished jewel.”

Heathcote notes:

“This year’s contribution is closer in spirit to Hadid’s tent than it is to some of the more structurally ambitious efforts, something between an agricultural polytunnel and a Pop-Art inflatable funscape. Its architects, SelgasCano, are known for their relentless experimentation with materials and a fierce attachment to colour, transparency and a sense of surprise. This little pavilion, with its almost psychedelic tunnels and its shimmering colours — which evoke the rainbow refractions of oil in a puddle or a soap bubble — does all those things, an eloquent, miniaturised representation of their ambitions.”

“So perhaps those tentacles, those passages running off in random directions contain an echo of the complexity of the city’s underground interchanges, the complex subterranean junctions which keep the city moving. The building becomes a kind of exposure of something unseen, one of those Boy’s Own diagrams of how things work — but unburdened of the immense weight of the earth.”

Woodman writes:

“This year’s appointment of the Madrid-based Selgas Cano continues this commitment to new talent, but with notably less happy results. The husband and wife team’s pavilion takes the form of an iridescent chrysalis formed by a steel skeleton draped in multi-coloured plastic sheeting. Its form is determinedly unorthogonal: four “tentacles” sprawl out from a central events space across the Serpentine’s much dug-up front lawn. Hugging the gently undulating ground, they consolidate their organic image through the heaving rise and fall of their roofline.”

“The architects describe the desire to establish a relationship between the pavilion and its parkland setting as a key motivation behind the design, so it is somewhat bewildering to discover that, on entering it, we are almost entirely unable to look out. The one unobstructed view is offered by a distinctly uteral protrusion that will backdrop the stage when the pavilion is used for public talks. How attractive an environment the space will be when packed with an audience remains to be seen.”

— Anna Kats (@coldwarcasual)

Image courtesy SelgasCano.