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The Serpentine Pavilion

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Every year, the Serpentine Galleries commissions an architect from different parts of the world to create a pavilion in their beautiful setting in Hyde Park. This year’s Pavilion is the 14th structure to be erected on the site, and like the ones before it, stands as an example of the avant-garde experimentalism current promoted by the Serpentine Galleries. Designed by the Chilean architect Smiljan Radic the pavilion is the first to be as much modern and physical as Neolithic and esoteric.

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Smiljan Radic is relatively unknown by Serpentine standards, most of his work having been built in his home country. Most of his Neomodernist creations, best described as enigmatic, can be found in the Chilean countryside: houses with clean lines, enigmatic forms and tactile surfaces that have helped lead the way for Chilean architecture.

“I don’t create forms, I collect shapes.” - Smiljan Radic

As soon as we saw the shell-like structure appear through the trees the expression “papier-mâché” popped into our heads. To be honest, it is quite reassuring that in the digital age you can still meet with architects that are dedicated to model making. In reaching the pavilion we each started to touch and try guessing the material of the shell, which looks roughly unfinished as a regular size architectural model.

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The interior space almost never is one, on account of the many openings towards the exterior landscape that Radic created. You start to wonder if you’re inside a giant egg or a shell that was recently left by its inhabitant. But the interior structure and the pavilion bar rudely remind you that you’re in a manmade structure and the enigmatic feeling fades away, only to revive a couple of minutes later when we explore the undercroft beneath the pavilion. The pavilion is supported by rune-like stones, weighing 120 tons, which seem to have been there long before any Serpentine Pavilion had ever been built. The undercroft communicates in the middle through an opening in the upper structure to the latter and the sky above; linking together on different levels, earth, structure and sky in a symbiotic way. We leave the pavilion wishing that we could have heard the rain while inside or seen the light coming out through its translucent skin during the night.

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“when you look at a folly you have to stop rationalizing” - Smiljan Radic

Radic’s structure juxtaposes two concepts; Oscar Wilde’s story “The selfish giant” and 18th century follies.

On one hand, there is this image of a large, out of scale model with translucent walls that have a handmade feel about them and that look a little bit crude. The actual texture of the pavilion imitates the masking tape Radic originally used on the small model he created, and the fiberglass achieves just that, a rough, unfinished and translucent material. It seems like it just might have been built by a giant.

On the other hand, there are the large roughly cut stones that support the giant’s shell, reminding you of the ornamental look of follies and their sometimes artificially created ancient appearance. As Radic says, this is the joke of the follies, they are ephemeral structures made to look eternal.

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