Serpentine Pavilion 08.10.15

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SelgasCano brings a riot of colour to the Serpentine’s summer commission, but flaws in the construction are equally glaring

The work of Madrid-based design duo José Selgas and Lucía Cano of SelgasCano, this year’s pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery is a hyper-coloured, chrysalis-like structure, made of translucent plastic panels and bands fixed to a metal skeleton. It’s bright and cheery, for sure, and more accessible in that sense than many of the more solemn and contemplative editions that preceded it. It seems to ask you only to enjoy and have fun, rather than engage with anything too conceptual.

Its form also makes it feel quite at home on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery, with a telling resemblance to a caterpillar about to chomp on the trees that surround it. SelgasCano is a practice that embraces playfulness and colour (orange and yellow being particular favourites) in a way that few other architects do. For instance, its contribution to the new “creative office” typology, London’s Second Home, is one of the more sophisticated takes on workplace-as-leisure place – furniture and lighting that can best be described as “funky” achieve the intended by subverting traditional office stuffiness, without going so far as to focus on ping pong and in-house speakeasies. (Please may that trend end as soon as possible!)

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The white floor reflects the various effects of the coloured plastic roof

That same balance – being fun without slipping into novelty – is present in the Serpentine Pavilion. There’s a light-heartedness at the core of SelgasCano; they are an emerging global talent, now with some quite stately projects under their belt, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Yet the pavilion hasn’t left everyone with smiles. What is somewhat strange is that, despite its exterior connecting so perfectly with the leafy context, from within the pavilion you are able to catch only scant glances of the park surrounding you. Perhaps the intention was to emulate a cocoon, providing a protecting, comforting space – but it’s here that the failings of its construction take the upper hand.



David Michon


Images: Iwan Baan

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There’s a light-heartedness at the core of SelgasCano; they are an emerging global talent, now with some quite stately projects under their belt, but they don’t take themselves too seriously

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The pavilion’s four cocoon-like arms converge on a central bar and meeting space

Many a critic has made mention of the poor finishing of this year’s pavilion. The joints between the fluorine-based plastic and the steel frame often create ripples in the former, and allow the rain to leak in – although rain protection has never been part of the criteria, it’s a shame when the pavilion seems capable of providing it but doesn’t. The plastic itself is crinkly, and you’re not quite sure if it’s intended to be. And, I’ve heard – anecdotally – that a child has already “stumbled” onto one of the plastic bands and torn it, suggesting that it may be altogether too fragile to serve as a place of democratic public loitering. When the sun shines, the cocoon becomes a sauna: steamy and breezeless – something of a nightmare for the poor cafe worker trapped inside manning the coffee machine. But it does make the colours dance – that’s quite nice.

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The opacity of the fluorine-based plastic skin varies across the structure

The contrast to some of the Serpentine Gallery’s earlier pavilions is drastic. Many of these were far more like mini-buildings, and were much more urban in character than this year’s edition – Oscar Niemeyer’s effort in 2003 even incorporated a basement. They had a sense of permanence, and were clear demonstrations of skilled engineering – the eminent engineer and architect Cecil Balmond is co-credited on three constructions, and the company of which he was then deputy chairman, Arup, co-credited on a fourth. This year, I’m certain that even first-time visitors to London, passing the pavilion by chance and knowing nothing of the Serpentine’s annual commission, would be quite sure the structure was temporary.

Yet, strangely, it seems the SelgasCano pavilion will have a much more active and prestigious afterlife than many of its forebears. Of those that remain publicly accessible (such as the humongous shell designed by Smiljan Radic last year, which is now at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset), many are outside of major cities or in private hands. The SelgasCano pavilion was purchased by the architects’ friends at Second Home (who had given SelgasCano their first project in the UK), and will find itself in Los Angeles next summer, programmed as a venue for performances and visual art. Thankfully, Los Angeles in the summer isn’t a rainy city – but let’s hope the performers like the heat.

Read our interview with Selgas Cano from Icon 142: Colour

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