It would be no overstatement to say that London’s summer doesn’t start without the opening of Serpentine Pavilion. It is undoubtedly one of the most innovative and ambitious architectural programs of its kind. Every year the landmark temporary structure is created by a different, internationally renowned designer, yet to complete a building in England. The architect’s brief is a simple, practical document, which leaves each architect free to think experimentally, and to explore aspects that they might not otherwise have opportunity to with other projects. The gallery’s intentions and hopes – “The commission is an invitation to respond to the site and context; emotionally, psychologically, and physically” – have challenged numerous architects in the past and without a doubt, the summer of 2011 pavilion exceeded all expectations.
The 11th commission was by the renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor in collaboration with Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, who is known for the influential garden project High Line in Manhattan, New York. The pavilion titled Hortus Conclusus – a Latin term that indicates “enclosed garden” – offers a physical yet emotional experience. The pavilion is 5.3m tall, 12m wide and 33m long. As visitors enter the rough, black coated timber structure, itself standing calmly at the heart of one of the most beautiful parks in London, they find themselves in a dark, narrow corridor. The corridor circulates the full perimeter of the building and feels darker and longer to their unadjusted eyes. With now heightened curiosity, the visitors progress to find four staggered doorways on the inner walls, leading them gently into the hidden inner space. Inside a completely contrasting environment awaits – no roof, and open to the sky, over 30 varieties of shrubs, flowers and plants, carefully chosen by Oudolf, flourish in the natural light and scent-filled space. Such a mature garden in a temporary space is shocking to some and a most beautiful and poetic surprise.
“The building acts as a stage, a backdrop for the interior garden of flowers and light”, says Zumthor. This intimate small theatre features the ever evolving nature that will never cease to captivate us.