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Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron’s New London Pavilion Is Unveiled

by Hrag Vartanian on May 31, 2012

A general view of the pavilion (all images © Iwan Baan, via serpentinegallery.org)

Tomorrow, the new Serpentine Pavilion officially opens in London’s Kensington Gardens and judging by the photos on Bustler and elsewhere this year’s creation by architects Herzog & de Meuron and artist Ai Weiwei may be one of the most beautiful yet. Partially submerged into the site, their pavilion, the 12th in the popular series, appears to be a zen cove of reflection.

The design builds upon and reveals the previous structures that came before it. According to the press release:

This year’s Pavilion will take visitors beneath the Serpentine’s lawn to explore the hidden history of its previous Pavilions. Eleven columns characterizing each past Pavilion and a twelfth column representing the current structure will support a floating platform roof 1.4 metres above ground. The Pavilion’s interior will be clad in cork, a sustainable building material chosen for its unique qualities and to echo the excavated earth. Taking an archaeological approach, the architects have created a design that will inspire visitors to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time across the ghosts of the earlier structures.

The designers appear to have cultivated the sense of history in their work and the team of Ai Weiwei/Herzog & de Meuron explains:

“A distinctive landscape emerges out of the reconstructed foundations which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift. 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. In other words, the ideal environment for continuing to do what visitors have been doing in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions over the past eleven years.”

The roof is the most distinctive feature of the building and it captures rainwater as if to respond to the city’s rainy realities but also reverse the traditional concept of a reflection pool. Most of the reflecting happens underneath. The designers explain:

“The roof resembles that of an archaeological site. It floats a few feet above the grass of the park, so that everyone visiting can see the water on it, its surface reflecting the infinitely varied, atmospheric skies of London. For special events, the water can be drained off the roof as from a bathtub, from whence it flows back into the waterhole, the deepest point in the Pavilion landscape. The dry roof can then be used as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park.”

This is not the first collaboration between Ai Weiwei and the Swiss architectural firm, the two collaborated to create Beijing National Stadium, which was built for the 2008 Olympic Games and became the iconic centerpiece for Chinese global rebranding efforts. Ai Weiwei, who is still facing legal troubles in China for tax accusations he calls baseless, was not able to attend the opening but contributed to the opening with a video statement.

According to Wallpaper:

“‘Every year, architects impatiently and jealously wait for the announcement of the Pavilion,’ said Jacques Herzog at the opening. ‘Working with Ai Weiwei again makes it even more intriguing’. Meanwhile, Weiwei made his presence felt at the launch with a video statement. ‘As an artist, I am always very interested to put art, design, architecture and social change together to make new possibilities,’ he said.”

The current pavilion has been purchased by Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal and will enter their private collection after it closes to the public on October 14.

The Telgraph has posted a video of the structure from the press event.

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