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Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron to design Serpentine Pavilion

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron have been chosen to design this year’s pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery, London

The appointment marks a departure from the gallery’s usual selection policy of working with architects who had not built in the UK before.

Swiss-based Herzog & de Meuron has already overseen the overhaul of the Tate Modern and won the Stirling Prize for its Laban Dance Centre in Deptford.

However the gallery hailed the high-profile collaboration for its 12th pavilion as a ‘special development’, explaining that the commission reunites the design team behind the Beijing National Stadium - built for the 2008 Olympics – as London celebrates its own summer Games.

The team’s ‘archaeological’ proposals for this year’s pavilion will ‘explore the hidden history’ by digging 1.5m under the Serpentine lawn to discover the remains of the gallery’s previous, temporary structures designed by the likes of Peter Zumthor. Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel. The design features 11 columns to mark each of the past pavilions which, together  with an additional 12th column, will support a platform roof ‘resembling that of an archaeological site’.

Later this week (9 February) Weiwei, who was detained last year for 81 days by Chinese authorities for ‘economic crimes’, will receive his Honorary Fellowship from the RIBA for his contribution to architecture.

Julia Peyton-Jones, director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director, of the Serpentine Gallery, said: ‘It is a great honour to be working with Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. We are delighted that our annual commission will bring this unique architectural collaboration to Europe to mark the continuity between the Beijing 2008 and the London 2012 Games.

The pavilion will host the gallery’s Park Life programme of public talks and events and opens between June and October.

Pavilion proposals - description

‘Every year since 2000, a different architect has been responsible for creating the Serpentine Gallery’s summer Pavilion for Kensington Gardens. That makes eleven Pavilions so far, our contribution will be the twelfth.

‘So many Pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape.

‘Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion. In that way we incorporate an otherwise invisible aspect of reality in the park – the water under the ground – into our Pavilion. As we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations.

‘Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. Their shape varies: circular, long and narrow, dots and also large, constructed hollows that have been filled in. These remains testify to the existence of the former Pavilions and their greater or lesser intervention in the natural environment of the park.

‘All of these foundations will now be uncovered and reconstructed. The old foundations form a jumble of convoluted lines, like a sewing pattern. A distinctive landscape emerges out of the reconstructed foundations which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift. The three-dimensional reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed. In other words, the ideal environment for continuing to do what visitors have been doing in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions over the past eleven years – and a discovery for the many new visitors anticipated for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

‘On the foundations of each single Pavilion, we extrude a new structure (supports,walls) as load-bearing elements for the roof of our Pavilion – eleven supports all told, plus our own column that we can place at will, like a wild card. The roof resembles that of an archaeological site. It floats some five feet above the grass of the park, so that everyone visiting can see the water on it, its surface reflecting the infinitely varied, atmospheric skies of London. For special events, the water can bedrained off the roof as from a bathtub, from whence it flows back into the waterhole, the deepest point in the Pavilion landscape. The dry roof can then be used as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park.’

Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei

Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei also works as an architect, photographer, curator and globally recognised human rights activist.

Born in 1957 in Beijing, he began his training at Beijing Film Academy and later continued at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. His work has been exhibited around the world with solo exhibitions at Stiftung DKM, Duisburg (2010); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Cambelltown Arts Center, Sydney (2008); and the Groninger Museum, Groningen (2008), and participation in the 48th Venice Biennale in Italy (1999, 2008, 2010); Guangzhou Triennale in China (2002, 2005), Busan Biennial in Korea (2006), Documenta 12 in Germany (2007), and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil (2010).

In October 2010, Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” was installed in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London. Ai Weiwei participated in the Serpentine Gallery’s China Power Station exhibition in 2006, and the Serpentine Gallery Map Marathon in 2010.

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