March 23, 2007
London’s Serpentine Gallery has changed its plans for the summer 2007 pavilion, an annual exhibit in which a famous architect is invited to design a temporary building for the gallery’s lawn in Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine had commissioned the German architect Frei Otto, but last week announced it is instead working with Kjetil Thorsen, the Norwegian architect who co-founded Snøhetta, and Olafur Eliasson, the Danish installation artist.
Gallery directors Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist say that they have not cancelled Otto’s design, which they selected in late 2006, but will instead give the 81-year-old architect another year to realize his vision. A real building rather than a folly, the Serpentine pavilion is used for talks, events, and parties every week during summer months by hundreds of people at a time. It opens in June.
In past years, Arup’s deputy chairman Cecil Balmond had helped guest architects to finalize their designs and meet the Serpentine’s tight production schedule, which leaves less than a year for the project to be realized and constructed. Otto’s brief was the first to include both the pavilion’s design and its structural engineering, in line with his background. Otto pioneered the design of tensile structures, including the flowing roof of the stadium at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Pavilions have been part of the Serpentine’s summer offerings since 1999. Past architects include Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, and Toyo Ito. Last year the gallery began inviting both architects and artists to collaborate; Rem Koolhaas designed the pavilion and Thomas Demand created a decorative screen inside it.
Details of Eliasson and Thorsen's Serpentine concept will be released in April. The duo has worked together several times before, including on Norway’s National Opera House, currently under construction. They have said that they share a mutual interest in “spatial experimentation that renders conceptual differences between art and architecture superfluous.”