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Ai Weiwei’s Underground Pavilion to Open in London Park

Serpentine Pavilion
An exterior view of the new pavilion with the London Serpentine Gallery in the background. Photographer: Farah Nayeri, Bloomberg

An underground pavilion co-designed by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was presented to the media outside London’s Serpentine Gallery today.

Ai, who was detained for almost three months in China last year, created the pavilion in Hyde Park with architects Herzog & de Meuron, who worked with him on the 2008 Beijing National Stadium, (“the Bird’s Nest.”) The temporary structure has been purchased by billionaire Lakshmi Mittal -- chairman of the world’s biggest steelmaker ArcelorMittal -- for his collection.

Twelfth of its kind, the 2012 pavilion is a circular, cork-lined lounge sunken into the Serpentine lawn, with steps and bleachers carved into it, and stools shaped like champagne corks scattered everywhere. A water-filled circular roof rises like a floating basin 1.4 meters (4 feet) above the lawn, supported by 12 columns of varying shapes that represent the 12 pavilions.

“From the beginning, we were on the same track: not doing another object on top of the lawn,” said co-designer Pierre de Meuron in an interview inside the pavilion. “What can you do after 12 years?”

“We are in a beautiful park, and you don’t want here an object that’s crying, ’Look, I’m the pavilion of 2012,’” he said.

Video Message

Earlier, during the press presentation, Ai -- who is banned from travel outside China -- sent a videoed message.

“We tried to study what happened before, and we also asked (ourselves) why we need to do a new design for this event,” said the bearded Ai, wearing a baggy light-blue shirt. “We are focused on the memory and the past and what has happened.”

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 directors of Serpentine, a former tearoom, ask 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 talks and events.

Muse highlights include: Jason Harper on autos, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology, Manuela Hoelterhoff on Mugzie.

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