Ai Weiwei Plans Underground Pavilion for London’s Serpentine

Ai Weiwei, the dissident Chinese artist who was detained for almost three months last year, released plans for an underground space to be built as the summer pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery.

The pavilion -- co-designed with architects Herzog & De Meuron, who previously worked with Ai on the 2008 Beijing National Stadium, known as “the Bird’s Nest” -- has been purchased by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and his wife for their collection, a Serpentine news release said. Mittal is chairman of the world’s biggest steelmaker ArcelorMittal. (MT)

This year’s summer pavilion, the 12th of its kind, will be built underneath the lawn and highlight traces of past pavilions. Its interior will be lined with cork, and its roof will rise 1.4 meters (4 feet) above ground, supported by 12 columns representing each of the Serpentine pavilions over the years.

“Every year since 2000, a different architect has been responsible for creating the Serpentine Gallery’s summer pavilion,” Herzog & De Meuron and Ai Weiwei said in the release. “That makes eleven pavilions so far, our contribution will be the twelfth.”

“So many pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape,” they said.

Going Underground

This year’s designers said they would perform a kind of archeological dig, burrowing some 5 feet into the park soil and incorporating subterranean water into their structure. They’d also single out telephone wires, old foundations and other remnants of past structures, they said.

Previous pavilion architects include Pritzker Prize winners Peter Zumthor (2011), Jean Nouvel (2010), Zaha Hadid (2000), Frank Gehry (2008) and Rem Koolhaas (2006).

Every year since 2000, the Serpentine, a former tearoom, asks an architect or artist to put up a provisional building for its summer fundraising party, as well as for visitor use and day and evening events.

A Beijing court has accepted Ai’s lawsuit challenging the 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) tax evasion penalty the government levied against the company that markets his work, the artist said in an interview today.

To contact the writer on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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