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The Metamorphosis of Summer

4th Apr 2016

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Each year the Serpentine Gallery commissions a temporary summer pavillion by a leading architect as part of The Serpentine Architecture Programme. For 2016 they've expanded the programme, and it's multi-faceted. The Summer pavilion this year has been designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). However, we will also see the addition of four newly commissioned summer houses by Kunlé Adeyemi – NLE (Amsterdam/Lagos), Barkow Leibinger (Berlin/New York), Yona Friedman (Paris) and Asif Khan (London). The summer houses are inspired by Queen Caroline’s Temple, a classical style summer house built in 1734 by William Kent, just a stone’s throw from the Serpentine Gallery.

Introducing contemporary architecture to a wider audience, the Serpentine Architecture Programme presents a unique exhibition of contemporary international architecture in the built form rather than through an exhibition of models, drawings and plans.

In announcing the plans for Summer 2016, Serpentine Galleries Director, Julia Peyton-Jones and Co-Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist stated:

“We are delighted to reveal the designs for our expanded architecture programme. As you can see from the renderings, Bjarke Ingels has responded to the brief for a multipurpose Pavilion with a supremely elegant structure that is both curvaceous wall and soaring spire, that will surely serve as a beacon – drawing visitors across Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to visit the pavilion, the summer houses and our major exhibitions by Alex Katz and Etel Adnan. The response to design a summer house, inspired by Queen Caroline’s Temple by our four international Architects has been equally inspired and has produced four unique spaces for visitors to explore this summer.”

The 16th Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is an "unzipped wall" that is transformed from a straight line to a three dimensional space, creating a dramatic structure that by day will house a café and provide free family activities. By night it will become a space for the Serpentine’s acclaimed Park Nights programme for performative works by artists, writers and musicians. BIG’s pavilion has been conceptualised as a play on “one of the most basic elements of architecture; the brick wall”. The bricks however, are a far cry from the archetypal red variety, and can be named as such in only the most illusory of manners. They are made of pultruded fibreglass frames, whose hollow structures make provision for its intended state of flux.

Of his design, Ingels has said, “We have attempted to design a structure that embodies multiple aspects that are often perceived as opposites: a structure that is free-form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque. The unzipped wall creates a cave-like canyon lit through the fibreglass frames and the gaps between the shifted boxes, as well as through the translucent resin of the fibreglass. As a result, the shifting overlaps as the movement and presence of people outside create a lively play of light and shadow on the cave walls within.”

Ingels’ frequent use of the word ‘unzipped’ is, for an immobile building, incredibly apt. As well as, and maybe more so than through its visual appearance, the pavilion is ‘zip-like’ in its guaranteed polarity. As one is repositioned in and around the structure, it will ‘unzip’ itself; with each shift in perspective comes a new shift in physical configuration. 

“The North-South elevation of the pavilion is a perfect rectangle. The East-West elevation is an undulating sculptural silhouette. Towards the East-West elevation, the pavilion is completely opaque and material. Towards the North-South, it is entirely transparent and practically immaterial. As a result, presence becomes absence, orthogonal becomes curvilinear, structure becomes gesture, and box becomes blob.” - Bjarke Ingels

Though perhaps not immediately discernible, there is a definite common thread linking the pavilion to each of the accompanying Summer Houses. The essence of each structure seems to be based upon some idea of metamorphosis, through either illusion or allusion.

Kunlé Adeyemi’s Summer House is an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple – a tribute to its robust form, space and material, recomposed into a new sculptural object.

“By rotating the temple’s interior void space, we expose the structure’s neo-classical plan, proportions and architectural form.” His design is almost a double-entendre, “the design is based on projecting an inverse replica of Queen Caroline’s Temple – a tribute to its robust form, space and material, recomposed into a bold new sculptural object.” - Kunlé Adeyemi

It alludes to the historic pavilion by exploiting its negative space instead of through direct aesthetic replication.

Barkow Leibinger were inspired by another, now extinct, 18th Century pavilion also designed by William Kent, which rotated and offered 360 degree views of the Park.

“This small pavilion…offering various panoramic views of the park and, reciprocally, different views of itself when seen from the park. With this absent structure in mind, we have designed a Summer House in-the-round. Standing free with all its sides visible, and conceived as a series of undulating structural bands.” - Frank Barkow & Regine Leibinger

Again, the architects explore the options of changeability in a structure that is, unlike its 18th Century stimulus, physically immobile.

Asif Khan’s design is inspired by the fact that the Queen Caroline’s Temple was positioned in a way that would have once allowed it to catch the sunlight from The Serpentine Lake. In explaining his take on the brief, he emphasises the attention paid to the changing history of the surroundings.

“Through sun path analysis, I realised that Kent aligned the temple toward the direction of the rising sun on 1st March 1683, Queen Caroline’s birthday. This effect would have been amplified by the reflection off the newly created Serpentine Lake… a landscape-sized mirror to reflect the sun, a possibility which John Rennie’s 1826 bridge [now] obscures. In our Summer House design, a polished metal platform and roof provide an intimate experience of this lost moment for the visitor.” - Asif Khan

Essentially reinstating the past through design, he is indirectly addressing the transformation of the Park over the course of the centuries. 

Where the other Summer Houses tackle varying concepts of metamorphosis, Yona Friedman’s Summer House takes a more literal approach in the form of a modular structure that can be assembled and disassembled in different formations. It builds upon the architect’s pioneering project La Ville Spatiale (Spatial City) which was started in the late 1950s.

“The manifesto for this project, published in 1959, was based on two pillars or principles: firstly, a mobile architecture that could create an elevated city space and enable the growth of cities while restraining the use of land; secondly; the use of modular structures to allow people to live in housing of their own design. 
The Summer House is a space-chain construction of 4+1 levels, it is composed of cubes defined by 6 circles of 1.85m in diameter and made with steel tubes of 16mm in diameter. The cubes are composed into irregular geometrical shapes that rest on the ground…[it] is essentially a movable museum and exhibition.” - Yona Friedman

The Serpentine Galleries; 

Twitter: @SerpentineUK
Instagram: @serpentineuk

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Design render © Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)
Serpentine Summer House 2016 designed by Kunlé Adeyemi - NLÉ; Design render © NLÉ
Serpentine Summer House 2016 designed by Barkow Leibinger; Design render © Barkow Leibinger

Serpentine Summer House 2016 designed by Asif Khan; Architectural model © Asif Khan
Serpentine Summer House 2016 designed by Yona Friedman; Design render © AECOM