Zumthor Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery
Last week I went to check out this year’s summer pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. It’s the 11th pavilion commissioned by the gallery as part of an annual architectural series. Designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor it’s based on the concept of a hortus conclusus. A plain, black, rectangular structure surrounds and encloses a garden, open to the sky, at its centre. From the outside the pavilion is totally nondescript. A plain black box behind the gates of the gallery.
Entering the pavilion you first step into a dark corridor. There is dim lighting overhead but daylight floods in through the gaps in the walls – doorways leading out into the park on one side and to the enclosed garden on the other. It added to a sense of mystery, anticipation and the entering of a separated space.
Stepping into the hortus conclusus you are met with a bed of lush planting running the length of the pavilion. A path runs around the edge with seating and tables all the way round under the overhanging, sloping pavilion roof. There were several groups of people sat around on the day I visited – chatting, eating, drinking or just looking.
With the plain black walls encircling you, it really gave the focus to the planting and the sky in the centre. It was a very restful space. Hard to believe that the city was buzzing away just the other side of those mute walls. It was a lovely place to just sit, think and be. The planting is by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, known for his ‘New Perennial’ style he also designed the planting for the High Line Park in New York.
I was there for about an hour. The weather was so changeable that day that I had every variation whilst I was there. It was by turns sunny, overcast and pouring with rain. It was all rather dramatic and I appreciated seeing the pavilion and the planting in all the different light. When it rained I imagined it to be like the rain that would pour off the pavilions or covered walkways in the gardens in the period Chinese films my mother used to watch when I was little. It was a nice feeling being outdoors watching the rain hammer down over the garden and sliding off the roof protecting me overhead.
It didn’t last long though and after just a few minutes the unsettled sky decided it wanted to be sunny again.