Sou Fujimoto’s design for this year’s Serpentine pavilion is no better than anything the UK’s best young architects could propose, writes AJ deputy editor Rory Olcayto
The Serpentine Gallery idea for an annual pavilion designed by an architect yet to build in England was bold when it launched with Zaha Hadid’s tent-like folly in 2000. It sought to influence British developers, suggesting new forms of architecture to a growing private client base.
You can’t argue with the numbers: 300,000 visitors a year come for lectures, seminars, the sheer design spectacle. Yet 12 pavilions and a raft of starchitects later, its legacy is not an emboldened construction industry, it is the pop-up and the notion of design as a desirable but pricey bolt-on. And, with pavilions sold at the end of the three-month season, who could deny that the Serpentine, deliberately or not, had reformed architecture as a bespoke luxury product? Donating them to public parks would be more fitting.
Last year, Herzog & de Meuron’s witty design, whose form was determined by marks and traces left by previous pavilions, felt like a deliberate ‘game over’ moment. Given that the gallery broke its own rule by commissioning the Swiss duo, who had built in England, there was a sense that co-directors Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans-Ulrich Obrist had run out of ideas.
The appointment of Sou Fujimoto, a much lesser name than his predecessors, and at 41, the youngest yet, suggests a new direction that brings new international names to the fore. His design looks no better than could be imagined by the best of our own young practitioners. But the problem is not the architect –it is the pavilion itself: just another cute shelter for sipping fizzy wine in the rain.
Alistair Townsend of Tokyo-based Bakoko said: ‘Sou Fujitmoto is the most radical of the renowned Japanese architects dealing with abstract themes of weakness and primitivism – a kind of reductionism. He’s become an established figure within Japanese architecture, taking the minimalist ideas of SANAA one step further. His works tend to visually confound expectations, bordering on absurdity. For example, his House Na (2011) challenges its owners to live exposed within a transparent matrix of white steel and glass. Fujimoto’s renderings for the Serpentine appear to continue this theme for Londoners’ puzzlement and delight.
Kengo Kuma of Kengo Kuma and Associates said: ‘Sou Fujimoto is a very interesting designer who attempts to give a new definition to architecture, which is fresh and radical. I am sure he is going to build something really exciting for Serpentine.’