Sunday, 3 July 2011


 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, until October 16

Every summer for the past decade I've looked forward to the opening to the public of the Serpentine Gallery's summer pavilion, a temporary structure which this year will be there for 4 months before being dismantled and shipped to the lucky person who's bought it.  Recently there have been some  spectacular however-did-they-think-of-that constuctoin. (Last year, for example, we had bean bags and Ping-Pong tables). So we're used to seeing fantastical shapes and colours peering through the trees to whet our appetite from far off . This year you suddenly come across the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor's long rectangular black box.

You walk through a doorway into a high black corridor which runs round the perimeter - and instantly you are into a quiet shaded cloister pierced, the day I was there, by sharp angles of sunlight from the other 5 entrances. Step through the door opposite and you are inside a rectangular courtyard where the sky is the roof and shaded benches and stools overlook a rectangular garden.

Chelsea Flower Show it is not. Be prepared to be ravished by something entirely different. It was designed by the Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf and the first impression is of grasses and wild-looking plants which might or might not be second cousins to Queen Anne's Lace or Grannie's Bonnet.You begin to notice the array of colours - mostly greens - and the shapes, the pattern of shadows, the stirring of leaves in the breeze, even the birds and the bees.

Peter Zumthor says 'Plants have long been part of the earth's history...Their beauty is deep and beyond question...I look at my garden and I see vibrancy, opulence, serenity, . I see dignity, playfulness, infinite tenderness, the 'nodding kindness' of Herb Robert and in the larger, beautiful picture, I discover small modest dots of colour that enhance the luxurious whole.'

 'Make of it what you like", says Zumthor.'There is no hidden, or even obvious, meaning here. This is a place for you to be. To be. Nothing else."  The third century saint Irenaeus said something like  'The glory of God is to be fully human'. This pavilion demonstrates how architecture can create spaces to help us contemplate our place in the world. It's a calming and joyful and beautiful place to rest and think.

I suspect St Iraneus would have loved it.
Kieran Long, Evening Standard, 28 Jume 2011

For a very different view to mine see:.

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