The new Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens,
designed by the Japanese master Toyo Ito, has been drawing in crowds
in the unseasonably warm late July climate. One cannot miss this
perforated box. White and structurally heavy in steel sections,
yet composed with an algorithmic plan fed into the computer, it
reads as a solid enough form. Solid and void: in fact, it seems
like some great occluded fragment of an iceberg. The pavilion follows
those by Zaha Hadid, and then Daniel Libeskind. The last, by Daniel
Libeskind (2001), was dramatic in his triangulated language of space
and gave Londoners and tourists alike a taste of Libeskinds
inimitable architectural language.
Itos Pavilion is curious, as if the giant compressor of old vehicle bodies had somehow gone crazy and duly impacted and squeezed down a seagoing vessel, say Al Fayeds yacht, compressing it randomly yet within a rectilinear box. One wonders, with the Kathryn Gustafson designed memorial to Princess Diana, now due to be completed in 2003, whether this is not intentionally shared imagery, or merely subconsciously connected. Then, the iceberg connection emerges again inside, where triangles of detached grass craze into the body of the pavilion. The problem here is that the flat triangular swathes of grass now look like arctic tundra, since in the summer heat the grass has dried out and died and has to be replaced laboriously. This is not the way to interconnect outside and inside. The other most notable defining aspect of the impacted containerised yacht is its flat roof. Is this perhaps some reference to dying modernism? The peaks and troughs, which the computer programme could readily summon up (as in Libeskind), are truncated and compressed, as if waiting for a ceremonial transhipment to South Georgia, or points further South Atlantic, explorer Fiennes memorialised.
Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond of Arup, who was the collaborating engineer for the project have not achieved the elegance of Itos Sendai Mediatheque (2001), even if that was what landed them this job. The white box is heavy with bolted and welded steel connections: much as they wish, it will not dematerialise, as long as it stands. If the roof form had been liberated from its flat container, if openness were better balanced by countervailing enclosure, then it might have taken off, uncompressed, floating free. Now, on a typical day, only the breeze whistles through, blowing the paper napkins, croissants, and plastic cups like leaves.
Pavilions at the Serpentine is a brilliant concept of Julia Peyton-Jones, the Serpentines director. This one is perfectly adequate in providing an eye-catching enclosure to promote the Gallery proper. Now perhaps, for 2003,however, she should quickly pull in Anish Kapoor, sculptor and author (with Future Systems architects) of the dramatic, waterborne runner-up proposal for the Diana Memorial. And call it, surely, a spin-off. They deserve it, surely.