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SANAA Makes Debut in London with Serpentine Pavilion

July 10, 2009

By Aleksandr Bierig

Next to the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens, the ninth edition of the museum’s annual summer architectural interventions is set to open this Sunday.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Photos © Luke Hayes/Serpentine Gallery, London
The 2009 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion was designed by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA.
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Designed by Japanese firm SANAA with structural engineering by Japan-based SAPS and UK-based ARUP, this year’s structure promises to be a departure from years past, if only because SANAA, according to the partners Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, “started out trying not to make ‘architecture.’”

The result is an aluminum and plywood composite roof supported on an array of slender steel columns. The ceiling of the pavilion is clad with mirror-polished stainless steel, creating a series of reflections of the activities below and the surrounding park. The overall form is described by the architects as “drifting freely through the trees like smoke.”

The roof surface is not flat, but sweeps toward the ground at one end to the height of table, while rising at other points to accommodate a café and auditorium space. In an e-mail to RECORD, Sejima and Nishizawa wrote that, instead of a closed pavilion, “we wanted to make a completely open structure. We really tried hard not to make an object, though in many ways, we did. It feels like we're playing with the park. At one point, we thought about making just a fountain.”

There is no set budget for the yearly project (the cost for this year’s installation was not disclosed), and funding is provided by a combination of sponsorships, in-kind sponsorship donations, and the sale of the structure after its dismantling. This year’s presenting sponsor was NetJets Europe, with platinum sponsor Mace Group.

Started by Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones in 2000, the Serpentine Pavilion program gives a commission to an internationally renowned architect who has no prior work in the UK. Other architects in the series have included Frank Gehry and Toyo Ito, who was Sejima’s mentor in the 1980s.

The pavilion will be up through October 19 and will host performances, talks, film screenings, and the annual Serpentine Poetry Marathon this fall. 

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