The AJ’s technical editor Owen Pritchard on this year’s playful but poorly detailed Serpentine Pavilion by Spanish practice SelgasCano
Fun is in vogue: at the RIBA you can loll about on a foam playground courtesy of Assemble and at the Hayward you can tumble down spiralling slides by Carsten Holler. In case you hadn’t noticed – it’s summer and, as with every summer for the past fifteen or so years, the attention of the architecture world is drawn to a small patch of lawn outside London’s Serpentine gallery in Hyde Park where Spanish architect SelgasCano has designed this year’s pavilion.
The Serpentine Pavilion one of the most successful programmes of architectural patronage in world, it provides an occasion where architecture is to be, simply put, enjoyed. The Madrid architect’s pop-up is an explosion of colour - a lumpy rainbow of ETFE and ribbons.
Vaguely cruciform, the tent-like structure looks like it was destined for the Shangri-La field at Glastonbury but got lost on the way. It is a respite from the intensity and seriousness that typifies the RIBA award winners this year. The design is lightweight and ephemeral but that doesn’t mean it’s low-cost - Goldman Sachs are one of the principal funders of the project. As usual however, the Serpentine Gallery has not revealed the budget.
This is light and colour burped up with childlike delight
On entering, it is apparent that the primary concern of the design is the intensity and layering of colour - but not in a sterile, scientific way where light and colour is employed with precision - this is light and colour burped up with childlike delight. The architect says that the construction relates to the landscape of Hyde Park, but the experience is all about the interior where you are bathed in a spectrum of colours, the intensity of which changes with the weather. There are few meaningful views of the surrounding parkland.
The detailing, even if you are making concessions to the speed of the design and construction process, is poor. The roof is leaking and is covered in standing water, the ETFE sags and ripples, there are bits of double-sided tape keeping the ribbons on the exterior in place.
Still, the Serpentine’s pavilion programme is an opportunity for everyone to engage with a simple premise: architecture as an inhabitable artwork. But despite what the architects said about understanding London’s ‘changeable’ weather (see below), this is one to visit when the sun is shining.
Excerpts from AJ’s January 2015 interview with Lucía Cano
Have you learned anything from the previous pavilions?
We want to do everything differently, of course. We are the type of architects that, whenever we realise that somebody is doing something similar to the things we are, we immediately move to other places we still imagine as unexplored.
And, in that direction, we see this pavilion as a great opportunity to explore and investigate some processes that we have been interested in lately.
How well do you know London?
Well. We’ve travelled to London last year at least 50 times because we had some other commissions there related to the Second Home project [a creative workspace fit-out in Shoreditch, London, see AJ 09.12.14]. But, as foreigners, we have the possibility of working with much more freedom in London than a local practice might.
And how much thought have you given to the weather over here?
The people move and live differently in London than in other parts of the world because of its specific climate conditions. Above all, the weather in London is absolutely changeable, and even more so during the summer, and we expect the people will experience that continuous changing both inside and outside the building.
Does a scheme like this allow you to push your boundaries – and those of architecture – further than a usual commission?
We try to push our boundaries even on normal projects. This case will be the same as always. At some point we´ll need to relax the push, in order to make it feasible.
Can you give us any more details about your ‘one material approach’?
We can´t give you any detail in that direction about the project because it´s totally forbidden by the curators. But, yes, we are trying to build the whole pavilion with just one material, which looks like at the end might probably be impossible.
Are you afraid of failing?
The most recurrent dream we have is to arrive to a building of our own that was under construction and seeing a horrible “thing” that we haven´t controlled enough. Because that nightmare we need to be very close to the projects and construction process trying to be sure that everything is taken utmost care as possible. Doing that, doing the most as we can is the only way to sleep well at least. But on the other hand fail is a word that we see as something that has to be inserted in every interesting project.