Bjarke Ingels to design 2016 Serpentine pavilion – but he’s not the only one
Julia Peyton-Jones’s swansong as gallery director includes four more summer houses in Kensington Gardens, designed by architects aged between 36 and 93
“Bigamy” is how the maverick Danish architect Bjarke Ingels describes the work of his practice, the Bjarke Ingels Group (or BIG), which has been announced as the designer of this year’s Serpentine Gallery pavilion. “Why have one when you can have both?” he often quips, in defence of his gleefully pluralist architectural approach.
It is a philosophy that now seems to have been adopted by the Serpentine too. Not content with having just one pavilion on its Kensington Gardens lawn this summer, it has commissioned four more architects to design a series of summer houses to go with it.
While Ingels will be responsible for conjuring a dazzling showpiece structure in the usual spot, the four other architects – who range in age from 36 to 93 – have each been asked to produce a smaller pavilion inspired by Queen Caroline’s Temple, the classical stone summer house that sits a little to the north, built by William Kent in 1734.
It is a characteristically ambitious swansong for Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery since 1991, who began the pavilion programme 16 years ago and will retire this year. She clearly wants to go out with a bang – this five-pavilion bonanza looks a bit like a way of ticking off all the architects she wanted to commission before she left.
This was the last year the Serpentine could have asked Ingels, given its rule that the chosen architect must not yet have completed a permanent structure in the UK. BIG is currently working on a swooping multi-levelled canyon of a public square outside Battersea power station, which will be sandwiched between exuberant apartment blocks by Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. Ingels also has grand plans to string a gigantic Tesla coil between the power station’s chimneys, to flash and sizzle on the hour. This is an architect who has successfully crowdfunded a smoke-ring-blowing chimney for an energy-plant-cum-ski-slope in Copenhagen.
The globetrotting 41-year-old, who recently replaced Norman Foster in a high-profile coup on a major tower project for the World Trade Center site, has rapidly become one of the most sought-after architects in the world. His cartoonish schemes include a leaning pyramid of a skyscraper in New York, a swirling vortex of a watch museum in Switzerland and a gigantic stack of bricks for the Lego HQ in his home country. This fun-filled back catalogue makes him an appropriate choice for the Serpentine pavilion. He is guaranteed to come up with a crowd-pleasing gimmick, a shock dose of wow factor, if not necessarily something that will offer a profound spatial experience for subtler sensibilities.
The other four architects should provide a diverse range of responses to Kent’s classical folly. At one end of the scale is the gnomic Yona Friedman, a 93-year-old Hungarian-born French architect and theorist, who has spent a lifetime dreaming up utopian megastructures. His wild visions of infinitely extendable grids suspended in space have mostly remained on paper, so it will be interesting to see what he might build given the chance.
At the other end is Asif Khan, a 36-year-old London-based architect best known for his interactive tech-savvy Olympic pavilions that caught the Noughties zeitgeist. His Coca-Cola Beatbox for London 2012 allowed visitors to mix music emanating from its inflated pillows with the wave of a hand, while his Megafaces structure for Sochi 2014 had a robotic “selfie facade” that magically morphed to the shape of visitors’ faces.
In between sits Barkow Leibinger, a Berlin-based office that has dedicated the last two decades to experimenting with the possibilities of digital fabrication, and Kunlé Adeyemi, a Nigerian architect and former associate of Rem Koolhaas, who recently shot to prominence with his floating school project, built with local materials and expertise on a lagoon in the heart of Lagos.
As ever, time and money is tight. The architects have less than six months from commission to completion and there is no real budget – the project relies on sponsorship, help-in-kind support and the sale of the structures to wealthy collectors after the event.
There is also the question of what combined effect these four extra structures, produced independently by four very different studios, will have.
It could be a thrilling cross-section of contemporary architectural practice, or a half-baked architectural zoo, more novelty marquees for holding sponsors’ parties. This is a welcome reinvention of the format, but it might be helped by having a real use in mind for the structures’ afterlives.
Architects’ skills are best tested by having a problem to solve – and perhaps a shelter for the sale of coffee in a Royal Park isn’t the most pressing.
Source: The Guardian