Serpentine’s Pavilion Opens With Fujimoto Climbing Frame

A dense white grid made up of 27,000 elements has just gone up in London’s Hyde Park: It’s the Serpentine Gallery’s 2013 summer pavilion, designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto.

The pavilion originated in 2000 to host the gallery’s annual fundraising party, talks and daytime visitors over a three-month period. Previous designers include Pritzker Prize winners Zaha Hadid (2000), Rem Koolhaas (2006), Frank Gehry (2008), Jean Nouvel (2010) and Peter Zumthor (2011).

At 41, Tokyo-based Fujimoto is the youngest chosen.

“This has been a dream,” said Fujimoto in an interview at the media preview. “The pavilion has a beautiful history.”

Describing his forerunners as “heroes,” he remembered being intrigued in 2002 by Toyo Ito’s pavilion design. “It was my younger days,” he said, “and it was a big inspiration to me.”

Fujimoto’s pavilion is a forest of connected white tubes. From up close, it looks like an elaborate climbing frame. Further away, its jagged, busy exterior recalls a Gothic cathedral facade.

Inside, the pavilion is airy and light, with stacked-up glass blocks that can be used as bleachers. Roofing is provided by see-through polycarbonate discs that cover each grid and allow the rain to cascade away.

Organic Cloud

“I tried to create something like nature, but by artificial methods,” said the architect, wearing frameless glasses and a black linen suit. “The whole shape is rather organic, like a cloud. At the same time, the whole thing is made by really sharp industrial materials.”

Serpentine Director Julia Peyton-Jones said Fujimoto was picked because he’s “driven by this idea of nature and architecture,” and because a pavilion designer cannot have built in England -- “so that rules out a whole lot of architects immediately.”

Not all the chosen architects had Pritzkers, she said; Ito, picked in 2002, only won the Pritzker this year.

“The brief is unbelievably simple: It’s the same every year,” said Peyton-Jones. “We give them an opportunity where they don’t have to worry about bathrooms, they don’t have to design the kitchens, there are no walls.”

“We really want them to expand their practice,” she said. The pavilion can’t take more than six months to complete, and has to be built with funds the gallery raises.

Engineering Challenge

From an engineering standpoint, the project was a challenge, said David Glover, global chief executive for building engineering at Aecom Technology Corp. Fujimoto’s original design had 40,000 components, and would have been even denser. The architect had to adjust it, and “he wasn’t flummoxed by that,” Glover said.

Born in Hokkaido and working mainly in Japan, Fujimoto was co-winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale for the Japanese national pavilion.

Standout projects include the Musashino Art University Library (2010) at Tokyo University, and his House NA (2011) -- like a superposition of glass-paned building blocks.

Non-Japanese projects include a museum in Shanghai and an art gallery in Aix-en-Provence, France, he said.

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