Frida Escobedo discusses her design for the 2018 Serpentine Pavilion
A courtyard design that unites Britain and Mexico via a journey through space and time; an emerging Mexican architect; the youngest ever participant, and indeed only the second female one, after Zaha Hadid; there are many reasons to sit up and take notice of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion. We meet with the architect behind the 2018 design, Frida Escobedo, to find out more.
W*: Good morning Frida, please could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
FE: I was born and raised in Mexico City, I did my architecture degree at the Universidad Iberoamericana and I started working on projects on my own, right after I finished school. It is not unusual in Mexico. It is a big advantage and a big disadvantage, because it means that you really don’t get to learn an office’s structure, such as the financial structure, by working with somebody else. You learn the hard way and you also don’t have a lot of money, but it gives you a lot of creative freedom and motivation.
W*: What was your first project?
FE: My first project was when Alejandro Alarcón and I were associated and his mother asked us to do a tiny renovation and extension for her. Of course we convinced her to commission a whole new apartment. After seven years I came across the Public Domain program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Boston and applied. At the time I was also working on a competition for La Tallera [art gallery]. I flipped the coin and thought, maybe I will get accepted in GSD or maybe I will win the competition. But I got both! And it was amazing, but very challenging, both in terms of geography and time.
W*: When did the Serpentine invite you to do the pavilion, and what were your first thoughts?
FE: I met Hans Ulrich [Obrist, artistic director at the Serpentine Gallery] in 2013 or 2014 when he was doing the 89plus Americas Marathon program at Museo Jumex. They needed a stage/pedestal/podium and I designed it for them. Many years after – late last year – I received a letter from the Serpentine Gallery. It was an invitation to propose something for the pavilion. I was excited and in shock! So many important architects have designed this pavilion so it was a challenge to try and come up with something that was new, but at the same time reflects the spirit of the office.
W*: Did you follow the pavilion series before, have you visited any of the past ones?
FE: Yes, but I only had the chance to go to the Bjarke Ingels pavilion, I have seen the rest in photos only.
W*: What does it mean to you to design a pavilion?
FE: It is a public space, but also a platform to show what you think about space and how you want to deal with space. We have been working with temporary structures for a while now. They become little labs to test ideas on. Because they are so compressed as a project, they allow us to test, experiment and see things that we normally wouldn’t see with larger projects.
W*: How would you describe your design for the pavilion, in one sentence; what is this particular test about?
FE: It is about time, temporality and personal experience.
W*: What inspired the design?
FE: When you are designing a pavilion, especially one like this that will be here for a few months and is then going to move somewhere else, you are designing for a very specific site, but also for anywhere. It’s about understanding this idea of time, temporality, space, locality and how we understand those things in a more abstract way. It is something that is very local but also placeless. The way for us to tie it to the site, and to free it from the site, was to work with the Meridian line.
We were also thinking about the idea of interior and exterior and how you can be inside, but also out. We wanted to create this closed courtyard that is inside the park, which in turn is inside the city of London; a Russian doll of interiors. We were inspired by La Mezquita [the Mosque] in Cordoba.
So, we tied the pavilion’s footprint to the geometry and the location of the gallery. But then we have a second rectangle that intersects that first one, and it is aligned to the Greenwich Meridian. This is our subtle nod to that abstract idea of time and space. The rotation between the two rectangles creates three spaces – two smaller courtyards and a central one. The walls are very porous. We used British roof tiles to make a lattice. It seems quite opaque from a distance but as you approach it becomes very transparent.
W*: What would you like the visitors to take away from the experience of being in your pavilion?
FE: It is about encounter – encounters with other people, but also with yourself.
W*: What next? What other projects are you currently working on?
FE: We are a very diverse office. We are doing public sculpture in the botanical gardens in Orleans; we are doing exhibition design, housing projects in Mexico – both public and private – a retail space in New York, and two hotels, also in Mexico. There are nine of us in the office – I have the best team.