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Revealed: African star to design 2017 Serpentine Pavilion

Serpentine exterior crop

German-trained, African-born architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, has been picked to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion

Kéré will become the 17th international architect to build a temporary structure in London’s Kensington Gardens, having been chosen following a contest judged by, among others, Richard Rogers and David Adjaye. 

It is the first time the Serpentine has invited architects to compete for the annual installation. Previously it had handpicked an overseas architect to build their first structure in London.

The design, earmarked for a site in front of the Serpentine Gallery, was inspired by a tree and meeting place in Kéré’s hometown of Gando, Burkina Faso. 

He describes his proposed pavilion as a ‘responsive’ structure that ‘seeks to connect its visitors to nature and each other’.

Supported by a central steel framework, the large roof will ‘mimic a tree’s canopy’ and allow air to circulate freely; while offering shelter against London rain and summer heat.

A gallery spokesperson said: ’Kéré has positively embraced British climate in his design, creating a structure that engages with the ever-changing London weather in creative ways.



‘At the centre of the pavilion is an open-air courtyard with four separate entry points, where visitors can sit and relax during sunny days. In the case of rain, an oculus funnels any water that collects on the roof into a spectacular waterfall effect, before it is evacuated through a drainage system in the floor and stored for later use in irrigating the park.’

The spokesperson added: ‘Both the roof and courtyard structure are made from panels of wood sticks. By day, these panels act as solar shading, creating pools of dappled shadows. By night, the walls become a source of illumination as small perforations twinkle with the movement and activity from inside.’

Kéré, who runs Berlin-based Kéré Architecture, is known for his socially engaged and ecological design in his practice as well as his award-winning primary school in Burkina Faso (see AR 01.10.09).

He has also exhibited his work at shows in Munich and Philadelphia and featured in the exhibition Sensing Spaces at London’s Royal Academy in 2014.

Kéré’s pavilion follows last year’s ‘unzipped wall’ structure by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which was visited by more than 250,000 people.

The pavilion sat alongside four commissioned Summer Houses by Kunlé Adeyemi – NLÉ (Amsterdam/Lagos), Barkow Leibinger (Berlin/New York), Yona Friedman (Paris) and Asif Khan (London).

The decision to launch an invited competition was announced by the Serpentine last year as part of a ‘new chapter’ which will see its two galleries in Kensington Gardens jointly led by artistic director Hans-Ulrich Obrist and chief executive Yana Peel.

The architect’s view

Diébédo Francis Kéré, architect the 17th Serpentine Pavilion
‘As an architect, it is an honour to work in such a grand park, especially knowing the long history of how the gardens evolved and changed into what we see today. Every path and tree, and even the Serpentine lake itself, were all carefully designed. I was fascinated by how this artificial landscape offered a new way for people in the city to experience nature. In Burkina Faso, I am accustomed to being confronted with climate and natural landscape as a harsh reality. For this reason, I was interested in how my contribution to this Royal Park could not only enhance the visitor’s experience of nature, but also provoke a new way for people to connect with each other.

‘The roof of the pavilion takes inspiration from the great canopy of a tree. In my culture, certain trees hold spiritual meaning and mark important points of gathering and decision-making for the community. Like a tree, the Pavilion offers protection from the sun but still allows you to experience wind and rain. The shadow of the canopy on the ground will also change with the movement of the sun. This fluidity of air and movement is fundamental to my architecture.’

Diébédo Francis Kéré's Primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso

Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso

Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso

The Serpentine Pavilion history

2016 BIG - Bjarke Ingels
2015 SelgasCano
2014 Smiljan Radic
2013 Sou Fujimoto
2012 Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei
2011 Peter Zumthor
2010 Jean Nouvel
2009 Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA
2008 Frank Gehry
2007 Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen
2006 Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond with Arup
2005 Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura with Cecil Balmond, Arup
2004 MVRDV with Arup (un-realised)
2003 Oscar Niemeyer
2002 Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond with Arup
2001 Daniel Libeskind with Arup
2000 Zaha Hadid

Diébédo Francis Kéré at Sensing Spaces at London’s Royal Academy in 2014

Diébédo Francis Kéré at Sensing Spaces at London’s Royal Academy in 2014

Source: Anthony Coleman

Diébédo Francis Kéré at Sensing Spaces at London’s Royal Academy in 2014


Readers' comments (2)

  • Hopefully this will help shut the whinging remoaners up, and persuade the government that architecture and design does not warrant a special case in EU free movement negotiations. There is abundant talent outside the EU from Hong Kong to India, from Kenya to Nigeria, and from Jamaica to Tonga - all of which have deep roots in UK. High time to stop the rot of white supremacy in British Architecture, while prizes are awarded in the name of Stephen Lawrence.

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  • This is wonderful news! I am sure it will be a beautiful exhibition, with the most excellent materials.

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