This year's summer pavilion at London's Serpentine Gallery, designed by Herzog and de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, has opened to the public.
The pavilion, part of the London 2012 Festival, is the twelfth in a series of temporary architectural commissions for the Serpentine Gallery in the middle of London's Kensington Gardens.
The commission is normally awarded to architects or designers who have never designed anything in the United Kingdom before, but an exception was made for the current pavilion. In keeping with this year's Olympic theme, the gallery chose the team who designed Beijing's National Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games, Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and regular collaborator, the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Herzog and de Meuron previously worked in London on the transformation of the former Bankside power station into Tate Modern.
The design process was unusual, as it had to be carried out at long distance. Following his arrest and detention by Chinese authorities last year, Ai Weiwei is not currently allowed to leave China, so he and Herzog and de Meuron conducted their design work via Skype. Speaking of Ai, Herzog told the Guardian:
He is superfast at understanding things, though, so even with minimal gestures, he can make an important contribution.
The team took an archaeological approach to the pavilion, digging down rather than up, and incorporating elements of the eleven previous pavilions. In shape it is a sculptural sunken arena, entirely clad in cork, including the stools, shaped like champagne corks. The roof, filled with water to reflect an ever-changing London sky, shields the space.
The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion will operate as a public space and as a venue for Park Nights, the Gallery's programme of public talks and events, which this year will include talks by Yoko Ono, Cory Doctorow and the architects of the pavilion, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.
The 2012 Pavilion has been purchased by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and his wife Usha, and it will enter their private collection after it closes to the public in October.