Serpentine pavilion

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words Beatrice Galiee

A spiralling ramp wraps around a 15m-high timber-clad structure in the grassy forecourt of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, west London.

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen, of Norwegian architecture practice Snøhetta, have collaborated to create one of the most impressive Serpentine pavilions in its eight-year history. The open ramp, which serves as both balcony and wall for the conical structure, walks visitors up and around a central space and onto a solitary viewing platform that juts into the interior volume. A series of spirals of fine white string line the ramp.

The conical shape of the roof forms an off-centered oculus covered in translucent white fabric, creating an almost Pantheon-esque impression from within. The steel structure is clad in tessellated triangular scales of deep brown-painted plywood, resembling the coppery shell of an armadillo. Inside the main space, intended as a “laboratory” of art and architecture, there is low seating for events, talks and conversations. In a similar vein to last year, the pavilion will be used for a 24-hour marathon of discussions between some of the key thinkers in the art, architecture and science worlds, from 13-14 October during Frieze Art Fair.

The pavilion usually opens in July, but because of delays caused by a change in designer – German architect Frei Otto was originally in line, but he has postponed until 2008 – the opening was delayed until late August. Earlier in the summer, a temporary structure designed by Zaha Hadid formed the venue for the annual Serpentine charity fundraiser. 

As well as a venue for lectures and debates, the structure will be used for experiments with light, sound and colour by scientists and artists. The pavilion will be open until 11 November.

images Ed Reeve

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