For the first time, the Serpentine Galleries has commissioned not a single pavilion but five separate structures by different architects for London’s Kensington Gardens. For the past fifteen years, the summer pavilion has occupied a space between the gallery and West Carriage Drive in the park. This year, that primary pavilion was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and the other four scattered behind throughout the park.

The BIG pavilion is just that—big. It’s a mini cathedral with a soaring interior vault that pushes the idea of a pavilion to its size limits, competing with Bjarke’s former employer Rem Koolhaas/Cecil Balmond and their 2006 inflatable for height and scale. BIG claims that their pavilion is conceptually a “brick wall.” But rather than clay and bricks, the wall is erected from pultruded fiberglass frames/boxes (made by Fiberline) set back and stacked on top of each other. The wall is then “pulled apart” to form a cavity that houses events for the Serpentine’s summer program. The unzipping of the wall turns the line into a surface, transforming the wall into a space. Hans Ulrich Obrsit claims that the pavilion, like the other before it, has already been sold and will be re-mounted in China and America.

Yona Friedman, Barkow Leibinger, and Asif Khan.

Yona Friedman, Barkow Leibinger, and Asif Khan.

As for the other ‘back yard’ pavilions, they don’t match the BIG project in scale or position, but they are every bit as fantastical as one would expect from a garden pavilion. The four are designed by Kunlé Adeyemi, Asif Khan, and my favorites in the show, Barkow Leibinger and 92-year-old Yona Friedman. The Barkow Leibinger structure is made of molded plywood over a steel frame and has four seating areas surrounding the central wooden core. It’s swooping and molded shapes overwhelm the other pieces in the garden. One hopes it is a rehearsal for the Berlin-based firm’s securing the central Serpentine pavilion in the future.

The pavilion by Yona Friedman is a typical-yet-thrilling Friedman space frame. It’s so thin as to be nearly invisible until one is next to it and sees the Plexiglas images of his elevated La Ville Spatial (Spatial City) designs inserted into the pavilion’s metal hoops. The Spatial City design consists of modular structures in which people could build their own hoses. This pavilion, which can be disassembled and remounted, was built with the help of young school children in London.

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