Gehry’s Serpentine Pavilion Design Unveiled

April 3, 2008

By Lucy Bullivant

Part promenade, part amphitheater, Frank Gehry’s summer pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery, due to open in June, looks set to be one of the more elaborate and vivacious commissions in the gallery’s annual series. It marks Gehry’s first project in London and the first time he has collaborated with his son Samuel, who is part of the Gehry Partners design team. Arup will review the design, materials, and structure.

London’s Serpentine Gallery
London’s Serpentine Gallery

Images © Frank Gehry Partners LLP

Frank Gehry’s design for the summertime pavilion at London’s Serpentine Gallery, unveiled last week (top). One critic has likened it to an “exploded timber yard” (above).

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The Serpentine’s brief requests a fully accessible, weatherproof space in Kensington Gardens, to accommodate as many as 250,000 visitors during the three months of its installation. Gehry responded with a design, unveiled last week, that seeks to create “an urban street connecting the park and the existing Gallery.” His highly articulated timber structure bristles with energy and life in a way that is likely to reflect the bustling range of activities planned for it. To shelter the interior, glass panels will be hung off the pavilion at swooping angles with a sense of drama typical of Gehry’s larger scale public buildings.

Britain’s press is intrigued by the dynamic design, with one newspaper critic likening it to an “exploded timber yard” rather than a conventional public amenity. Gehry has said that he regards his pavilion “much like an amphitheater.” Visitors will be able to sit on terraces flanking the promenade. There will also be five elevated seating pods that people can access via the pavilion’s exterior. These serve as visual markers enclosing the amphitheater, and will provide space for performance stages, private viewing platforms, and dining.

The Serpentine allows a maximum of just six months from invitation to project completion. Only practitioners who have not yet built in England at the time of the invitation from the gallery are eligible. (Gehry’s Maggie Center, in Dundee, Scotland, opened in 2003.) Past architects in the program’s nine-year history include Kjetil Thorsen; Oscar Niemeyer; Toyo Ito, Daniel Libeskind, and Zaha Hadid. Most years, Arup provides engineering and specialist design expertise.

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