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Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2014 - Smiljan Radic

25th Jun 2014

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If you're a Londoner like us then there's a few things that subliminally confirm that summer is well and truly here. Whether it be Wimbledon, Clerkenwell Design WeekLondon Festival of Architecture, or in this instance the unveiling of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, which officially opens tomorrow.

This year marks Smiljan Radić as the fourteenth architect to accept the Serpentine’s invitation to design a temporary Pavilion outside the entrance to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. The commission is one of the most anticipated events in the cultural calendar and has become one of London’s leading summer attractions since launching in 2000. 

The Serpentine's Pavilion commission, conceived in 2000 by Director Julia Peyton-Jones, has become an international site for architectural experimentation and has presented projects by some of the world's greatest architects. Each Pavilion is sited on the Serpentine Gallery's lawn for four months and the immediacy of the commission – taking a maximum of six months from invitation to completion – provides a unique model worldwide. Attracting up to 300,000 visitors annually, it is one of the top-ten most visited architectural and design exhibitions in the world.

Smiljan Radić’s design follows Sou Fujimoto’s cloud-like structure, which was visited by almost 300,000 people in 2013 and was one of the most visited Pavilions to date.

Previous Pavilions have been designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, 2012; Peter Zumthor, 2011; Jean Nouvel, 2010; Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA, 2009; Frank Gehry, 2008; Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen, 2007; Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond, with Arup, 2006; Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura with Cecil Balmond, Arup, 2005; MVRDV with Arup, 2004 [un-realised]; Oscar Niemeyer, 2003; Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond with Arup, 2002; Daniel Libeskind with Arup, 2001; and Zaha Hadid, who designed the inaugural Pavillion in 2000. 

Occupying a footprint of some 541 square metres on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery, Radić’s plans depict a semi-translucent, cylindrical structure, resting on large quarry stones. The structure continues a history of small romantic constructions seen in parks or large gardens, the so-called follies that were popular from the late sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century. In general, follies appear as ruins or have been worn away by time, displaying an extravagant, surprising and often archaic form.

The 2014 Pavilion takes these principals and applies them using a contemporary architectural language and notes of Radić’s earlier work, particularly the studio model for The Castle of the Selfish Giant, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story, and the Restaurant Mestizo, part of which is supported by large boulders.

The unusual shape and sensual qualities of the Pavilion have a strong physical impact on the visitor, especially juxtaposed with the classical architecture of the Serpentine Gallery. From the outside, visitors see a fragile shell in the shape of a hoop suspended on large quarry stones. Appearing as if they had always been part of the landscape, these stones are used as supports, giving the Pavilion both a physical weight and an outer structure characterised by lightness and fragility. The shell, which is white, translucent and made of fibreglass, contains an interior that is organised around an empty patio at ground level, creating the sensation that the entire volume is floating. The simultaneously enclosed and open volumes of the structure explore the relationship between the surrounding Kensington Gardens and the interior of the Pavilion. The floor is grey wooden decking, as if the interior were a terrace rather than a protected interior space. At night, the semi-transparency of the shell, together with a soft amber-tinted light, draws the attention of passers-by like lamps attracting moths.

Designed as a flexible, multi-purpose social space with a café sited inside, the Pavilion will entice visitors to enter and interact with it in different ways throughout its four-month tenure in the Park. On Friday nights, between July and September, the Pavilion will become the stage for the Serpentine’s Park Nights series, sponsored by COS: eight site-specific events bring together art, poetry, music, film, literature and theory and include three new commissions by emerging artists Lina Lapelyte, Hannah Perry and Heather Phillipson.

Smiljan Radić was born in 1965. He studied at the Catholic University of Chile's School of Architecture, graduating in 1989, and at the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia, Italy. After travelling for three years, he opened his own practice in Santiago in 1995. In 2001, Radić was named ‘Best architect under 35 years old’ by the Chile College of Architects, and in 2009 was appointed an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects. Smiljan Radić has completed the majority of his structures in Chile. His commissions range from public buildings, such as the Civic Neighbourhoods, Concepción; Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago; Restaurant Mestizo, Santiago and Vik Winery, Millahue, and domestic buildings, such as Copper House 2, Talca; Pite House, Papudo and the House for the Poem of the Right Angle, Vilches, to small and seemingly fragile buildings, such as the Extension to Charcoal Burner's House, Santa Rosa, The Wardrobe and the Mattress, Tokyo and The Bus Stop Commission, Kumbranch.

Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Serpentine Galleries says: “We are thrilled that Smiljan Radić has designed the Pavilion this year. We have been intrigued by his work ever since our first encounter with him at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2011. Radić is a key protagonist of an amazing architectural explosion in Chile. While enigmatically archaic, in the tradition of romantic follies, Radić’s designs for the Pavilion also look excitingly futuristic, appearing like an alien space pod that has come to rest on a Neolithic site. It is very exciting that his design will be installed on the Serpentine Gallery’s lawn this summer.”

Considerate of social conditions, environments and materials, Smiljan Radić moves freely across boundaries with his work, avoiding any specific categorisation within one field of architecture. This versatility enables him to respond to the demands of each setting, whether spatial constraints of an urban site or extreme challenges presented by a remote rural setting, mountainous terrain or the rocky coastline of his native Chile.

Smiljan Radić, designer of the fourteenth Serpentine Pavilion, says: “The Serpentine 2014 Pavilion is part of the history of small romantic constructions seen in parks or large gardens, the so-called follies, which were hugely popular from the end of the sixteenth Century to the start of the nineteenth. Externally, the visitor will see a fragile shell suspended on large quarry stones. This shell - white, translucent and made of fibreglass - will house an interior organised around an empty patio, from where the natural setting will appear lower, giving the sensation that the entire volume is floating. At night, thanks to the semi-transparency of the shell, the light will attract the attention of passers-by, like lamps attracting moths.”

View Dezeen's video of Smiljan Radić's Pavilion here.

View the Serpentine Gallery on the Domus Nova Art & Culture Guide.
View the Serpentine Sackler Gallery on the Domus Nova Art & Culture Guide.

The Serpentine 2014 Pavilion, Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2;