The construction of the twelfth Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei is now complete and open to the public. My visit took place on June 17th, a reasonably sunny day as I wanted to get some decent images. I was not disappointed.
Instead of constructing an above ground building, the architect decided to partially sink the structure into the ground. The concept of the project is similar to an archeological dig in that the space below the ‘canopy’ exposes the below
structures of previous pavilions.
The experience of the space did feel like you were descending into the earth. The entire space is clad in cork providing the colour and texture of a soil. The smell of the cork is natural and ‘organic’. Even the movable seating (similar to champagne corks) are of cork. At the lowest point of the ‘dig’ is actual exposed soil, which I believe to be an elegant solution to the drainage of the area.
The underside of the cover to the ‘dig’ is of steel, it was difficult to see if it was painted as light was restricted within the space. The only additional lighting to the limited natural light entering the space from its edges was in the form of utilitarian light fittings.
The cover to the ‘excavation’ is below eye level allowing the viewer to see the upper surface when approaching the structure. This surface consists of a simple shallow pool. This acts as a mirror and provides the viewer with reflections of the sky, surrounding trees, building and people.
I must admit I found the contrasting nosings to the steps detail (in order to comply with DDA Regs.) amusing, considering the number of steps which were not detailed throughout the space. I wonder if the cork could be considered as an impact absorbing material in its own right.
My favorite element of this installation was the way children interacted with the space. What a great play ground.