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Sou Fujimoto unwraps 2013 Serpentine Pavilion

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Sou Fujimoto’s Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens, completed last night, opened to the press this morning

The structure, built with 8km of steel tubing in 27,000 lengths, features elevated seating platforms and an undercroft café protected from the rain with polycarbonate discs. 

Described by Fujimoto as a ‘frame cloud and a polycarbonate cloud’, the pavilion, engineered by Aecom and built by Stage One, is composed of 20mm hollow steel piping formed into two cube units of 400mm x 400m and 800mm x 800mm. The units were welded into approximately 55 large sections, transported by lorry and bolted into place to form the cloud on site. The bolts in the sleeved connections were then sawn off and painted on site.

Fujimoto’s is the 13th pavilion in the longstanding series which has welcomed architects including Herzog & de Meuron, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Programme directors Julia Peyton Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist said the selection of Fujimoto was a deliberate move towards the inclusion of a ‘younger generation’ of architects to work on the famous commission.

Peyton Jones said, ‘We are trying to create a balance through the architects we invite. We need to limit ourselves to architects who have sufficient means to make this commission a priority. Sou has a young, galvanized team. His office is resolutely low-tech, where the hand is ever present. He has kindly donated his sketchbooks from his work on the pavilion, and they are full of drawings and ideas. We adored working with him.’

Hans Ulrich Obrist, who described the pavilion as an ‘oscillation between the finished and unfinished, the organic and the geometric’ and a ‘utopic cloud city,’ said the gallery had met Fujimoto seven years ago, and decided to commission him for the pavilion now that his ‘practice had gained maturity.’

Obrist also said that the gallery was looking to ‘bring architects to this country of all generations’. 

David Glover, chief executive of Aecom, said the biggest challenge was the speed of design and construction of the complex structure, including the sourcing of the material, which was supplied by three different manufacturers. The engineers had six weeks to work on the design with Fujimoto, six weeks for its manufacture, and six weeks on site.

Asked whether any compromises had to be made, Fujimoto mentioned the inclusion of the handrails, a health and safety requirement enforced by Westminster planners. But he said, ”I felt there were no compromises. We studied the handrails very carefully to choose this kind.’

Obrist also discussed the emergence of the ‘imaginary collection’ of Serpentine Pavilions, now that the commission is in its 13th year. ‘We don’t own the pavilions anymore, they are all gone, but it has become a virtual collection.’

The unique structure opens to the public for free on Saturday 8 June and closes on 20 October.

The Serpentine Pavilion history

  • 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
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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think this article was written based on the assumption that everyone knows what/where The Serpentine is....

    In case anyone was wondering: http://www.serpentinegallery.org/contacts.html

    The Serpentine Gallery is located in Kensington Gardens.

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