Summer at the Serpentine

Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens has called on some of the world’s top architects to design summer pavilions – temporary structures that are erected next to the Gallery itself for a three-month period.

An exciting book, Serpentine Gallery Pavilions, which features the last ten years of the summer pavilions, was recently released to celebrate the art of this temporary architecture. The book brings together interviews with Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones and co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist as well as complete descriptions of the pavilions, illustrated with original drawings by each architect and photographs of the completed works.

The book showcases the work of international architects or design teams who at the time of the Serpentine’s invitation had not completed a building in England. A maximum of six months from invitation to completion is allotted to create each pavilion.

The only architectural programme of its type in the world, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions attract up to 250,000 visitors each summer. The showcase is regularly ranked in the top five most-attended architecture and design exhibitions worldwide in The Art Newspaper’s annual survey of visitor figures for museums and galleries.

The Serpentine Gallery itself was built in 1934 as a tea pavilion. It opened in 1970 as a venue for exhibitions of modern and contemporary artists ranging from Matthew Barney to Dan Flavin, Ellsworth Kelley, Louise Bourgeois and Rachel Whiteread.

Architect Richard Rogers says of the three-month pavilions, “The pavilions, erected for relatively little money, are unbelievably good. I couldn’t single out one that I have liked more than the others – they have all been masterpieces.”

Perhaps after you’ve perused the book you’ll be able to decide which pavilion is your favourite. Maybe Jean Nouvel’s 2010 pavilion, the latest offering of temporary architecture, will be it.

VISI wonders why a local project of this nature has not been initiated. It’s an inexpensive and excellent way for architects to unleash their creativity and test out designs. Plus the thought of vanishing architecture is pretty exciting, isn’t it?

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