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Out and About: Serpentine Pavilion

A short walk from our Design Studio is the Serpentine Pavilion. Each year Serpentine Galleries commission an international architect to design a temporary pavilion for the gallery grounds. As part of Serpentine’s dynamic summer programme, the Pavilion becomes a platform for live performances and public events.

I look forward to seeing the temporary structure unveiled each summer. It’s a cumulation of all the things I’m interested in: architecture, sculpture and materials. I find it fascinating to see how designers and architects approach the same brief each year. This year’s Pavilion is called ‘Black Chapel’ and is designed by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates.

It draws inspiration from many of the architectural typologies that ground the artist’s practice. The structure, realised with the support of Adjaye Associates, references the bottle kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, the beehive kilns of the Western United States, San Pietro and the Roman tempiettos, and traditional African structures, such as the Musgum mud huts of Cameroon, and the Kasubi Tombs of Kampala, Uganda.

I took some time to experience the space before finding out more about the design ethos. It has been designed for experiencing music and sustainability was an important factor, featuring a timber structure which can be demounted and rebuilt elsewhere. The structure is clad in stressed-skin plywood and stained timber boards. Steel has been used for high-stress elements such as the tension and compression rings of the spoke wheel roof, whilst the precast concrete foundations are designed to be removable and reusable.

I felt the strength of the cylindrical volume. At 10.7m high with a 16m diameter, it creates a dramatic atmosphere and one that evokes contemplation. You quickly discover more design features, each with specific intentions including a central oculus that provides a single source of light.

There is also a series of tar paintings called ‘Seven Songs for Black Chapel’, which are inspired by the Rothko paintings in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. I like that they also honour Gates’ father’s craft as a roofer by using roofing strategies including torch down, a method requiring an open flame to heat material fixing it to a surface.

Next to the entrance you will find a bronze bell salvaged from St. Laurence, a landmark Catholic Church that once stood in Chicago’s South Side. This historic bell is used to signal and announce performances and events at the Pavilion throughout the summer. Top of my list is the performance by Corinne Bailey Rae and the workshop by Mud Gang Pottery C.I.C. We hope you’ll be able to get ‘Out and About’ to enjoy this year’s Pavilion.
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Here’s a look at some of the Pavilion designs from previous years…

2020/21: Designed by Sumayya Vally

Photo by Iwan Baan

2019: Designed by Junya Ishigami

Photo by Iwan Baan

2018: Designed by Frida Escobedo

Photo by Rafael Gamo

2017: Designed by Francis Kéré

Photo by Iwan Baan

2016: Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group

Photo by Luke Hayes

2015: Designed by selgascano

Photo by Iwan Baan
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