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Leisure Media - Pavilion in the park


Pavilion in the park

In honour of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the design team responsible for the Bird’s Nest stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been reunited to create the new Serpentine Pavilion. We take a look

The Pavilion's interior is clad in cork, which was chosen for its sustainable properties Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei © 2012 Iwan Baan
Cork-covered stools provide seating for visitors to the Pavilion Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei © 2012 Luke Hayes
The changing sky is reflected in the water-filled elevated roof Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei © 2012 John Offen

About the Pavilion
Each year the Serpentine Gallery commissions a different architect to design its temporary pavilion. In honour of the 2012 Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium-designers Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei were asked to design this year's structure.

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion is a sunken structure which takes visitors “beneath the Serpentine’s lawn to explore the hidden history of the previous pavilions.” It features 12 columns – one for each pavilion over the 12 years the Serpentine has been running the architectural programme – and an elevated platform roof, which collects rainwater but can also be drained in order to host dance performances.

The Pavilion is open from 1 June until 14 October.

Serpentine Gallery


Julia Peyton-Jones OBE
Julia Peyton-Jones Co-director

“It has been a great honour to work with Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the design team behind Beijing's superb Bird's Nest Stadium.

In this exciting year for London we are proud to be creating a connection between the Beijing 2008 and the London 2012 Games.

We are enormously grateful for the help of everyone involved, especially Usha and Lakshmi N Mittal, whose incredible support has made this project possible."

[The steel magnate Lakshmi N Mittal and his wife are lead supporters of the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion. It will enter their private collection once it has closed to the public in October.]

The Design Team
Herzog and De Meuron and Ai Weiwei

 Herzog & de Meuron © 2011, Marco Grob

Jacques Herzog (left) and Pierre de Meuron

“Every year since 2000, a different architect has been responsible for creating the Serpentine Gallery’s Summer Pavilion. So many pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we instinctively tried to sidestep the problem of creating an object, a concrete shape.

Our path to an alternative solution involved digging down five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. There we [created] a kind of well to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion.

As we dig down into the earth to reach the groundwater, we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables, remains of former foundations or backfills. Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the 11 pavilions between 2000 and 2011.

On the foundations of each single pavilion, we extrude a new structure as load-bearing elements for the roof of our Pavilion. The roof 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 roof floats a few feet above the grass of the park, so that everyone can see the water on it, its surface reflecting the infinitely-varied, atmospheric skies of London"


© Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

Espa, Pavilion sponsor


Susan Harmsworth MBE
Susan Harmsworth MBE CEO Espa

"ESPA shares a common ethos with the Serpentine Gallery; that great architecture and design can enrich lives and act as a creative springboard for new thinking and ideas.

This year’s Pavilion concept is no exception. The vision of the design team of Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with Ai Weiwei and their archaeological approach "to inspire visitors to look beneath the surface as well as back in time," perfectly reflects ESPA's rich heritage in designing iconic spa environments and creating beautifully effective natural products.

ESPA’s philosophy is all about striving for natural elegance in everything we do. We combine the design and management of prestigious spas across five continents with the creation of pioneering, natural products. The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is an appropriate reflection of the brand’s pioneering commitment over two decades to our core brand values.

ESPA will be celebrating its British heritage throughout 2012 by embarking on a series of collaborations with British cultural institutions, artists and luminaries that showcase the best in design and expertise."

Originally published in Leisure Management 2012 issue 3
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