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Atelier Zumthor’s Anna Page on building the Serpentine pavilion

Architect Anna Page from Atelier Zumthor explains how this year’s Serpentine pavilion was designed

It’s a timber-frame structure, basically a roof construction with stud walls, one section repeated all the way around, and covered in plywood. The plywood is then painted with a thick black paint-like substance called idenden. Then the scrim, a hessian fabric that comes in long roles, is wrapped over the whole pavilion, and lapped down, so you will only get vertical seams.

The idenden is still wet when you lay the scrim on, and as it dries, the fabric stretches. There are only two wraps to the pavilion in section. We go over the whole exterior and interior with one roll of scrim, and the internal corridor – a 5.5 metre-high passage that you walk through to get to the hortus conclusus – with the second roll. This means there will only be two horizontal cuts in the fabric. There is also a horizontal cut detail around the doors, and some diagonal cuts to get around corners. You can’t rip it off, so you have to get it right first time.

We tested it all on a massive 1:1 mock-up. We wanted it to look monolithic, so you wouldn’t see how the structure is made underneath. From a distance it should just look like a massive black box.

The idea of the facade surface is that it has a kind of memory to it. We didn’t want a flat surface, we wanted it to be a little bit mysterious, and to have depth, with a grain or texture that would remind you of something. The roofing felt had that at the beginning, but we didn’t play with it very long because we needed everything in the building to be class-one fire rated. We’re happy with the result. We’re looking into using this material for another project as well.

As it’s a temporary pavilion, Peter wanted it to feel like that. It’s lightweight, quite a lot of it prefabricated. The pavilion literally sits on the ground – that was important to Peter. There’s a very small foundation – thin strip footings, very thin concrete.

The lights and the furniture were made especially for the pavilion. Viabizzuno – they’ve worked with Peter before – have made three new lamp types for the pavilion, all in zinc-coated steel. Moobel made the round table and folding stool, designed by Peter. Both had just three months to make these pieces. They’ve been amazing.

The Swiss-pine bench is the only thing that isn’t black in the pavilion, and it’s Prussian blue. It’s a stain, made by taking two chemicals and applying them on the wood separately, and the two colours react on the wood to make this crazy blue. Peter loves this blue. It’s really, really beautiful, and nice to touch.



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