The notoriously fickle London weather turned on the warmth and sunshine for the 20 July opening of the Frank Gehry Pavilion at Kensington Garden’s Serpentine Gallery. The collaboration with the Serpentine – the ninth in the gallery’s ongoing partnership with leading architects to create innovative, temporary structures – is an especially happy one: it marks the American starchitect’s first completed building in England as well as being his first project with son, Samuel.

 

Serpentine Pavilion construction
Click here to see more of the pavilion.

At first glance though, the pavilion does not resemble any of Gehry’s earlier works – where were the familiar swoops of burnished steel? And it was clear from the reaction of the opening day crowd that everyone was intrigued.

But the DNA slowly reveals itself, first in the way the structure – like the Bilbao Guggenheim and LA’s Disney Concert Hall – seems to float lightly over the lawn. That it manages to do so is counter-intuitive given that massive timber blocks and criss-crossing planks balance against each other, haphazardly it seems, to create an elongated central void. In turn, generously proportioned stepped platforms along the sides transform the space into an amphitheatre and promenade.

Meanwhile, the roof is pleasingly organic with a light cascade of glass sheets. The placement is precisely so, providing complete shelter from rain (always a distinct possibility in London even during summer) while sunshine floods through and fresh air circulates freely between the gaps. Indeed, from certain angles, the glass roof resembles a flutter of translucent butterflies.

Gehry has described the pavilion as ‘an urban street running from the park to the existing Serpentine Gallery’. But this shorthand barely does the structure justice. Like the best of the Pritzker Prize laureate’s work, the pavilion almost effortlessly draws in the observer, all the while pulling the eye upwards, the better to appreciate the deceptively simple space. If nothing else, London just scored itself a perfect summer retreat, even if the weather should misbehave.