Architect Junya Ishigami’s on this year’s Serpentine Pavilion

Architect Junya Ishigami’s on this year’s Serpentine Pavilion

There’s one event that signals beyond a shadow of a doubt that the summer is here; the annual launch of the Serpentine Gallery’s Pavilion. And the time has now arrived, with this year’s offering, designed by Japanese architect Junya Ishigami, now complete and launching this week in London’s Kensington Gardens. 

Drawing inspiration from one of the most common architectural feats – the roof – the Serpentine Pavilion this year appears like a grey cloud, shifting weightlessly in the breeze. In reality, the structure is made by (probably rather weighty) dark coloured slates, arranged in a single canopy, which stands on slim, ethereal columns; in keeping with the architect’s signature style of delicate drawing and graceful forms. 

Inside, a cave-like space offers room for resting and contemplation – as well as shelter from the elements during the unpredictable, weather-wise, British summer. Its use is inherently open ended, says Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist: ‘It’s an open situation, we never know how the public will use it, and it’s free and here for everyone’.

Through the design, Ishigami aims to juxtapose the man-made and the natural, he explains. ‘My design for the Pavilion plays with our perspectives of the built environment against the backdrop of a natural landscape, emphasising a natural and organic feel as though it had grown out of the lawn, resembling a hill made out of rocks’, the architect said when he first revealed his design. ‘This is an attempt to supplement traditional architecture with modern methodologies and concepts, to create in this place an expanse of scenery like never seen before.’  

Still, the project did not come without its challenges, and time and perfection in detailing and construction were key ones, as Ishigami admits. ‘I was very worried about completing this project in such a short time – most of my projects take a very long time to make. This year was the hardest in my life!’ he says, probably only half-joking. 

Ishigami’s design follows last year’s acclaimed edition by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo. With it, the Japanese architect earns a coveted membership at the club of select architects from around the world, who have worked on a Serpentine Pavilion before – including Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Sou Fujimoto and Bjarke Ingels.

One of the project’s goals has always been to promote great architecture, inspire and delight, and Ishigami aimed for his design to do just that. ‘I imagined it as a dark cloud in the sky’, he says. ‘I would like people to also come here and imagine.’ §

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