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The Serpentine's four summer houses

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As well as BIG’s centrepiece pavilion, this year’s super-sized Serpentine Gallery programme features four extra summer houses. But what is their point, asks Laura Mark

For the first time in its 16 year history, the Serpentine Gallery has not just commissioned a pavilion but also a series of summer houses which open today (7 June) alongside BIG’s climatic central structure.

The west London gallery’s 2016 show will be the last for the Serpentine’s co-director Julia Peyton Jones. She leaves after 26 years - a period in which she set up the annual must-see jamboree, a highlight of the London architectural calendar. Opening to the public on Saturday (11 June), the five pavilion programme will mark her swansong.

But, Peyton Jones insists, the programme’s expansion in 2016 has nothing to do with that: ‘We asked ourselves what is next for the pavilion programme. This is an expansion of architecture as a built form.’

So what the park needed, it seems, was more pavilions.

Each of the four summer houses, designed by a clutch of stars ranging in age from 36 to 93, have been inspired by Queen Caroline’s Temple – a classical folly built just a few hundred metres from the Serpentine Gallery.

Although each is a response to the same William Kent-designed summer house, the outcomes differ significantly both in success and form.

The Nigerian architect Kunle Adeyemi, who recently picked up the Silver Lion for emerging talent at the Venice Biennale, has reimagined the temple as an inverse replica. It’s perfectly placed in front of the existing summer house-cum temple and its blocky sandstone form generates a room, a doorway and a window. 

Next to this sits American/German firm Barkow Leibinger’s swirling plywood form which takes its cue from a mechanically rotating pavilion which once sat on the site but ignores Queen Caroline’s Temple. 

Hungarian architect Yona Friedman – the eldest of the bunch at 93 years old – has created a whimsical structure based on a project La Ville Spatial, which he began in 1959. The wire installation was built from a model and single drawing as the architect said he ‘never makes plans’ but hard to view so close to the other structures. 

And then there is homegrown talent Asif Khan’s design – the most successful of the bunch. For his pavilion, Khan charted the sun’s path around Queen Caroline’s Temple. He discovered that the 280 year old monument was aligned to pick up the sun reflecting off the lake on the Queen’s birthday. This discovery was then transformed into his own sundial-like structure through the use of a large metal disk at the centre of a curving array of white-painted timber fins.

Sadly, these summer houses fail to read as a connected piece. Although originally planned to be built on either side of the pathway which cuts through the meadow by the temple, Royal Parks only granted permission for the gallery to use one side, so their arrangement is cramped.

BIG’s pavilion is udoubtedly the showstopper of this summer’s event. On their own these small interventions could have been great, but teamed alongside this boisterous and self-confident stacked heavyweight, they suffer. They seem lost and overshadowed. They are like an uncalled-for add-on that the Serpentine, which was clearly focusing much of its energy on BIG’s mountainous piece, didn’t really need.

The four summer houses

Kunle Adeyemi

Kunle Adeyemi's summer house

Kunle Adeyemi’s summer house

Source: Iwan Baan

Barkow Leibinger

Barkow Leibinger's summer house

Barkow Leibinger’s summer house

Source: Iwan Baan

Yona Friedman

Yona Friedman's summer house

Yona Friedman’s summer house

Source: Iwan Baan

Asif Khan

Asif Khan's summer house

Asif Khan’s summer house

Source: Iwan Baan


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