Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Serpentine Pavilion

My lack of a camera inhibited me from going to see the Serpentine’s 2007 Pavilion: I really like photographing the structures. This is one that is better in real life than in photos – strangely, photographs don’t really show how it fits together or works spatially. The Serpentine’s description is pretty good:

“The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007 is designed by the internationally acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson and the award-winning Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, of the architectural practice Snøhetta. This timberclad structure resembles a spinning top and brings a dramatic vertical dimension to the traditional single-level pavilion. A wide spiralling ramp makes two complete turns, allowing visitors to ascend from the Gallery lawn to the highest point for views across Kensington Gardens as well as a bird’s eye view of the chamber below.”

While very modern, the building seems to foster a ritualistic approach: the spiral is quite processional, and affords great views over Hyde Park as one slowly progresses to the top. Near the bottom, the walkway dramatically opens out into the internal space, which while large feels cosy and cave-like, with amphitheatre-style seating curving around an oval space and a large uneven conical dome opening up overhead with an oculus at the top lighting a balcony precipitously jutting out over the space. This balcomy is definitely calculated to bring out your inner shaman. The pavilion's colouring is uniformly a dark bronzy brown which adds to a sense of mystery.

Even though the building shows you where the processonal spiral terminates as you ascend, when you get there it is still a surprise – the disjuncture between walking gently up in open space in natural light and suddenly entering a dark, enclosed, high space artifically lit is quite pronounced. The balcony suddenly feels quite vulnerable and dangerous. One has an amazing view of the crowds seated in the amphitheatre. Some balcony visitors couldn’t resist giving fascist salutes – it is that type of space.

I worried this wasn’t going to be as spectacular as Olafur Eliasson’s last gig at Tate Modern; that it wouldn’t stand up to Rem Koolhaas’s astonishing 2006 Pavilion - but was completly swept away. Much recommended.

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