London’s underground art pavilion
The Serpentine Gallery's 2012 pavilion was designed by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. (Sean O'Neill)
For the last 11 years, the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens has commissioned artists and architects to build a summer pavilion that illustrates the latest in design and serves as a place for lectures and parties.
This summer the pavilion was designed by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron – the team that created the Beijing National Stadium, nicknamed the "Bird's Nest", for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Opened 19 June, the pavilion, situated on a lawn adjacent to the gallery, is a subterranean auditorium, with a roof supported by a dozen columns. The floor of the structure, with its undulating contours of bench-style, cork-lined seating, evokes the ghostly foundations of the previous summer installations. The circular steel roof structure, 1.4-metres above the ground, captures rainwater and creates a smooth surface that reflects the sky. It can be drained to serve as a dance floor.
The rainwater and the cork-lined landscape are tributes to the unseen natural water that flows beneath the park, alluding to an otherwise invisible part of the geographical setting.
Past pavilions built by architects -- such as Zaha Hadid's in 2000, Oscar Niemeyer's in 2003 and Frank Gehry's in 2008 -- were the first projects those global stars made specifically for London. The 2012 pavilion is Ai Weiwei's first structure in the city, but in 2000 architects Herzog & de Meuron converted a London power station into the Tate Modern art gallery.
The Serpentine Gallery, an attraction in itself, is also currently showcasing the career highlights of conceptual artist Yoko Ono in the exhibition To the Light, on display through 9 September. Featuring work from throughout her career, the show includes installations, films and archival material, including Ono's celebrated #smilesfilm participatory project in which people the world over can upload photos of smiles.
Part of the London 2012 Festival, the 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion will be on view until 14 October, with free admission.