The Serpentine Pavilion pops up annually in London’s Kensington Gardens at the Serpentine Galleries. This summer calendar fixture is always commissioned to a contemporary architect as their first-built project in the UK. Zaha Hadid designed the inaugural pavilion in 2000. Since then, art and design titans have followed including Olafur Eliasson, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry, each contributing to a fascinating history of pavilion design and architectural innovation – as well as hosting radical social gatherings beneath their temporary eaves. Frida Escobedo designs the 18th Serpentine Pavilion, which is open from 15 June to 7 October.

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  • Francis Kéré, 2017

    Headquarters: Berlin, German

    Looking to the tree that acts as a community meeting place in his hometown of Gando in Benin, Francis Kéré was inspired to evoke a connection between visitor and nature in the design of his canopy-like pavilion. This desire to design socially is at the root of Kéré’s practice, whose office was founded in Berlin in 2005. Kéré trained at the Technical University of Berlin, and is internationally recognised with an accolade of awards including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2004), the LOCUS Global Award for Sustainable Architecture (2009), the Green Planet Architects Award (2013) and many more.

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  • Bjarke Ingels Group, 2016

    Headquarters: Copenhagen and New York

    Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), founded by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels in 2005, built their 2016 pavillion with pultruded square tubes of glass fibre and aluminium brackets. This structure, described as an “unzipped wall,” twists out and around, playing with scale to create a multipurpose cave-like centre that is both simple and complex. BIG currently employs over 300 architects, designers and thinkers from over 25 countries. Ingels believes in “information-driven design,” and leads BIG with the vision to design in the space where utopia meets pragmatism.


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  • Selgascano, 2015

    Headquarters: Madrid, Spain

    SelgasCano was formed by José Selgas and Lucía Cano in 1998. Tapping into simple elements, the duo designed an amorphous, polygonal structure that plays on ‘structure, light… change, surprise, colour and materials’. The pair both studied architecture at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, graduating in 1992. Whilst Selgas briefly worked with Francesco Venecia in Naples, winning the Rome Prize from the Academia Española de Bellas Artes de Roma, Cano worked with Spanish architect Julio Cano Lasso until 2001. SelgasCano is currently working on a handful of international projects, and have been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

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  • Smiljan Radić, 2014

    Headquarters: Santiago, Chile

    Chilean architect Smiljan Radic’s pavilion, a semi-translucent fibre-glass reinforced plastic boulder-like shell resting on large quarry stones, was reminiscent in construction of the papier-mâché and artisan techniques used by the architect in his creative process. Known for his sculptural approach, the Croatian-born Radic graduated from the Universidad Catolica de Chile and established his practice in 1995. His work, which is relatively small-scale, explores the fragility of materials and the ephemeral qualities of architecture in relation to its landscape.§

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  • Sou Fujimoto, 2013

    Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
    At 41, Sou Fujimoto was the youngest male architect invited to design a Serpentine Pavilion, which he described as ‘an architectural landscape terrain… protecting visitors from the elements while allowing them to remain part of the landscape’. Graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1994, he established his own office in 2000, where he continues to design buildings that blur the line between public and private space, which largely feature minimal, delicate structures.
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  • Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, 2012

    Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland

    The Swiss architectural partners Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei teamed up for the 2012 pavilion, after working together to build the much acclaimed Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. Their pavilion brought visitors beneath the Serpentine lawn to revisit the ghosts of pavilions past – an archaeological exploration that both remembers the past through 12 columns (representing all 12 pavilions), while also asking viewers to rediscover parts of the pavilions that are hidden. Herzog & de Meuron established their office in Basel in 1978 and has designed projects ranging from private homes to large-scale urban design. Ai Weiwei, on the other hand, has spent most of his professional life using visual arts as a vehicle for activism, contesting large scale human rights abuses, mainly in response to the Chinese Government.


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  • Peter Zumthor, 2011

    Headquarters: Haldenstein, Switzerland

    Exploring the sensory experience evoked by architecture, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor designed his pavilion as a contemplative space, which includes a garden by influential landscape architect Piet Oudolf. Trained in design at the Kunstgewerbeschule Basel and in architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York, Zumthor established his own practice in Haldenstein, Switzerland in 1979. He has worked internationally, and is known for his modernist, minimalist style epitomised by the Therme Vals spa in Graubünden, Bregenz Art Museum in Austria and the Swiss Sound Box.

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  • Jean Nouvel, 2010

    Headquarters: Paris, France

    French architect Jean Nouvel’s red, bold geometrical structure with a soaring cantilevered wall marked the 10th pavilion and 40th anniversary for the Serpentine Gallery. Nouvel’s glass and fabric design, consisting of retractable awnings and freestanding walls, played with light and image to evoke a sense of hallucination and disorder. Famous for his bold, experimental designs, Nouvel graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1972, finding his current practice, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, in 1994 and the sister company to his architectural firm, Jean Nouvel Design (JND), in 1995. Nouvel fosters a contextual approach to architecture, designing buildings specific to their environment and community, and in doing so, marking cities with unique, individual structures.

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  • Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA, 2009

    Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan

    Architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA created an open and ephemeral pavilion, which they described as a ‘floating aluminium, drifting freely between the trees like smoke’. Sejima has enjoyed an illustrious career, as well as maintaining her own practice over the years, she was named the Japan Institute of Architects’ Young Architect of the Year in 1992, working at the practice of fellow Serpentine architect Toyo Ito, and forming SANAA with Ryue Nishizawa in 1995. Nishizawa, meanwhile, has also maintained his own practice since 1997, and holds professorships at institutions including Yokohama National University.

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  • Frank Gehry, 2008

    Headquarters: Los Angeles, USA

    Canadian-born, US-based architect Frank Gehry’s pavilion represents his first ever collaboration with his son, Samuel Gehry. A composition of timber planks, steel columns and glass planes, it reimagined a kind of amphitheatre. Gehry, who was raised in Toronto, received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California in 1954 and later studied City Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Famous for inventive, perplexing designs he has been awarded some of the most prestigious architectural awards throughout his 40-year career, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989.

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  • Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen, 2007

    Headquarters: Berlin

    Olafur Eliasson and Kejtil Thorsen took a dramatic approach for their timber-clad, spiralling pavilion. Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson works out of Berlin, creating sculpture and large-scale installations exploring the relationship between people and their surroundings. Thorsen, co-founder of Snøhetta, is responsible for several award-winning public buildings, and is also professor at the Institute for Experimental Studies in Architecture at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

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  • Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond, 2006

    Headquarters: Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    The helium-filled roof of this pavilion, co-designed by Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond with Arup, rose and fell with changes in the weather. Koolhaas founded OMA in 1975 with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp, going on to design buildings such as the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow (2015), Fondazione Prada in Milan (2015), and the headquarters for China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing (2012). Sri Lankan–British designer Balmond joined leading engineering firm Ove Arup & Partners in 1968 and founded his own research-led practice Balmond Studio in 2010.

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  • Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, 2005

    Headquarters: Oporto

    Portuguese architects Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura collaborated for the 2005 pavilion, the design brief being to establish a dialogue with the neoclassical gallery. A simple rectangular grid played host to a cafe and seating area, constructed from asymmetrical, interlocking timber beams and metal. Siza studied at the University of Porto School of Architecture until 1955, completing his first built works and opening his practice a year before completing his studies. Whilst a student at Porto’s School of Fine Arts, Souto de Moura switched practices from fine arts to architecture, simultaneously working for Siza for five years. He later went on to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2011, and the Wolf Prize in Arts in 2013.

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  • MVRDV, 2004

    Headquarters: Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    Unrealised due to excessive construction costs, Dutch architecture firm MVRDV designed an artificial mountain which was set to be built over the gallery itself. Increasing health and safety concerns further hampered its creation, yet the design is still considered an important part of the pavilions’ history. MVRDV is internationally engaged in the global conversation of providing solutions to contemporary architectural and urban issues. The firm was founded by Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries in 1993, with its offices based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.


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  • Oscar Niemeyer, 2003

    Headquaters: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s concrete pavilion showcased the distinctive sculptural curves and often gravity-defying aesthetic of his architectural work. Niemeyer (1907-2012) pioneered the use of reinforced concrete and is best known for his work in Brasilia, where he masterminded landmark governmental, residential and cultural buildings, such as the Cathedral of Brasilia, the country’s National Congress and the National Theatre.

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  • Toyo Ito (with Cecil Balmon and Arup), 2002

    Headquarters: Tokyo

    Japanese architect Toyo Ito’s steel and glass pavilion was designed from a complex, random pattern derived from an algorithm, and permits light and shadow to play in interesting ways. Conceptual in nature, Ito’s design process expresses the overlap between physical and virtual worlds. Upon graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1969, Ito established his own practice in 1971. Since, he has received numerous international awards, including the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for the 8th Venice Biennale International Exhibition.

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  • Daniel Libeskind and Arup, 2001

    Headquarters: New York, USA

    Daniel Libeskind collaborated with Arup on the 2001 pavilion titled ‘Eighteen Turns’, the aluminium-clad structure was inspired by the form of an origami figure. Known for creating resonant and sustainable architecture, Libeskind founded Studio Daniel Libeskind in 1989, with his partner Nina Libeskind. Based in Berlin, the studio’s first commission was the Jewish Museum Berlin. In 2003, the studio moved its headquarters to New York City on winning the competition for the World Trade Center Master Plan redevelopment.

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  • Zaha Hadid Architects, 2000

    Headquarters: London

    Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid kick-started the Serpentine Gallery’s famous summer architecture series with her white geometric pavillion. The triangulated and folding roof structure demonstrated the Baghdad-born architect’s interest in mathematical illusions and collaging angles and perspectives. Hadid, who studied in Beirut and England before graduating from London’s Architectural Association in 1977, founded Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979. Before her death in 2016, Hadid designed a diverse collection of avant-garde, simultaneously futuristic and fluid buildings around the world, many defiantly original.

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