The twelfth Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London is nothing without the first eleven. The collaborators responsible for the wonderfully intricate Beijing National Stadium (aka the Bird’s Nest) in 2008—Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei—have designed a temporary pavilion inspired by the archaeology of previous structures by Peter Zumthor, Jean Nouvel, and Zaha Hadid, among others.
The team peels back the Serpentine Gallery’s lawn, excavating five feet to reach the water table, revealing the footprints, foundations, and topography of its predecessors. A new ground plane tracing from the tangled intersections of previous pavilions creates differentiated seating areas and eleven columns extruded from fragments of old foundations along with a final new column to prop up a bowl of collected rainwater/reflection pool hovering above. “A distinctive landscape emerges out of the reconstructed foundations which is unlike anything we could have invented,” the team said in a statement. “The three-dimensional reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed.”
From the Serpentine lawn, the pavilion appears as a contrast of reflected sky and exposed earth. The entire subterranean seating area is covered in cork—chosen for its texture and smell. For special events, the rooftop reflecting pool can be drained into the seating space below where it soaks back into the ground allowing the space above to be used as a dance floor or elevated platform.
“As we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations,” the group said in a statement. “Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. Their shape varies: circular, long and narrow, dots and also large, constructed hollows that have been filled in…These remains testify to the existence of the former Pavilions and their greater or lesser intervention in the natural environment of the park.”
The pavilion represents Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s first jointly-designed structure in the UK. The installation will run from July 1st through October 14th this year, presented as part of the London 2012 Festival at the end of the London Cultural Olympiad, a celebration concurrent with the London 2012 Olympics.