South African studio Counterspace design London's 2021 Serpentine Pavillion
Each summer the Serpentine invites an internationally renowned architect to create their first built structure in England. The Pavilion commission has became an international site for architectural experimentation and has presented projects by some of the world’s greatest architects. The brief is to design a Pavilion that is used as a cafe and meeting space by day and a forum for learning, debate and entertainment at night.
The 20th Serpentine Pavilion is designed by Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally, and will be open from 11 June to 17 October 2021.
Located on the grounds of Serpentine in Kensington Gardens, the Pavillion’s design this year is based on past and present of meeting, organising and belonging across London. The forms in the Pavilion are a result of abstracting, superimposing and splicing architectural elements, varying in scales of intimacy, from various locations, translating the shapes of London into the Pavilion structure. These places are brought together through imprints, formed and shaped in materials, finished with different textures. They reference the architecture of some of London’s gathering spaces - places of community and cultural production that are particularly relevant to migrant communities across the city, including places of worship, markets, restaurants, bookshops and local cultural institutions. Pieces of these places physically meet in the Pavilion to form a new gathering spaces.
“Architecture is about being together and about being apart, about making together and moving apart. To imagine architecture as decentralised, as agile, or as archipelagos, is to see things in relation to each other. To understand that structures can support each other by decentralising is also to understand diaspora as a tactic - without romanticising it - to negotiate shift and bring different territories together” - says Sumayya Vally.
Throughout history, the Serpentine Pavilion has been a showcase for innovative materials. Its environmental impact is minimised as far as possible.
A range of reused and repurposed materials have been used in the Serpentine Pavilion 2021: The Pavilion’s primary structure is made entirely from steelwork salvaged from other projects already in storage at the contractor’s yard (Stage One), where the Pavilion is prefabricated. This minimises the embodied carbon of the structure both in material production and in its transportation.
Carbon-negative cork produces as a by-product from the wine-industry (Amorim), and micro-cement derived from lime and waste from marble production, are used in the structure’s cladding. Steelwork has only been used where dictated by structural requirements and sustainability sourced timber has been used in other areas.
The sculptural forms are constructed using lightweight plywood to ensure the pavilion is simple to transport, construct, deconstruct and relocate in the future.
Balancing the ability of the architect to freely express their vision with practical cost, buildability, time and functional constraints, and the restrictions of working in the Royal Parks, is a key challenge that team embraces each year. This year the structure reached more than six metres high being one of the tallest Pavilions in recent years, with a footprint of approximately 350m2 is also one of the largest.
IN CHARGE ARCHITECT: Sumayya Vally
LOCATION: Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA UK
PHOTOGRAPHY: Iwan Baan; George Darrell; Design Render by Counterspace