Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Wei Wei are getting the band back together for a brief collaboration for the famed Serpentine Gallery 2012 Pavilion. Now in its twelfth iteration, the Serpentine has commissioned temporary structures by some of the world's leading architects, including Toyo Ito, Peter Zumthor, and Zaha Hadid. The Swiss architects and the Chinese artist/designer have previously collaborated on the so-called Bird's Nest Olympic staduim in Beijing. While that project emphasized both strength and fagility with a soaring tangle of intersecting structure, their proposal for the Serpentine will explore the subterranean history and ecology of the site. “Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion. In that way we incorporate an otherwise invisible aspect of reality in the park – the water under the ground – into our Pavilion," the design team said in a statement. "As we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations. Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011." The pavilion will open in June and programming will run through October.
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This year’s Serpentine pavilion by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor opens on Friday, July 1. The first images reveal not just a simple structure of humble materials but also a new type of collaboration for the Serpentine series. Zumthor invited the Dutch planting designer Piet Oudolf to join the project, and although Zumthor retains top billing, his design gives Oudolf center stage. Oudolf recently shared a plan with us of his vibrant garden scheme that forms the heart of the timber-frame structure. Oudolf’s garden is in the center of the pavilion, whose walls are wrapped with burlap and coated in a grainy black paste. Visitors enter through doorways staggered along a set of exterior and interior walls, moving from the dark, shadowy hallway into a bright, flower-filled atrium that is open to the sky, with Prussian blue benches running around the perimeter and scattered folding chairs and tables designed by Zumthor. Over 20 varieties of densely packed plantings, from elegant irises to untamed grasses, will grow to various heights, said Oudolf, with some chosen to add “vertical accents” and act as a screen, alternately obscuring and revealing activity on the opposite side of the atrium. And while the blooms will be visually arresting, they will not be overly fragrant. “Scent attracts bees and insects, so we really thought of scent as secondary rather than as a key part of the design. There is scent of course, but it’s just a backdrop to the experience,” said Oudolf, noting that the 1200-square-foot garden should comfortably accommodate 30 to 40 visitors at a time, and that the multiple entrances will ensure easy circulation around the garden bed. Oudolf said that Zumthor, who received the Serpentine commission last October, contacted him in January while visiting the Netherlands. The two had never worked together, but “He already knew he wanted to do something that created a particular atmosphere, and he had an idea for a kind of closed pavilion with a garden inside,” said Oudolf of Zumthor’s concept for a “hortus conclusus”—a secluded garden within a garden. Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine, said the project “brings to mind Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Chapel in Germany, which he’s called ‘a small space to be quiet,’” while co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist compared the context of the Zumthor-Oudolf collaboration to a Russian matryoschka doll: the pavilion garden sits within the larger grounds of the gallery, which itself is tucked into Kensington Gardens. Oudolf is best known in the U.S. for his planting design for the Phase I of the High Line in New York, where an unmanicured mix of indigenous grasses and flowers almost appear to grow wild. While the plants differ, Oudolf said that his garden for the Serpentine has a similar “unorganized, spontaneous” effect. For more details on the opening, check out Daniel Ayat's on-site coverage.
Increasingly, the architects chosen each year to design the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London hail from a pool of the usual suspects. This past summer, it was Jean Nouvel. SANAA, and Frank Gehry ran up the mast in 2009 and 2008 respectively. The 2011 pavilion, we hear, will be by Swiss mystic architect, Peter Zumthor. There’s certainly abiding fascination in a series of heavyweights forced to design a lightweight structure on the double-quick (about six months) but the young and restless might actually have more to explore and certainly more to gain than the big names. Then again, more than most, Zumthor has maintained his mystique as an architect. Lightweight he is not: For the 2002 Venice architecture biennale, he submitted a six ton concrete model of his Cologne museum that was too hefty to be contained in the vast Arsenale.