Serpentine Pavilion 2016 — ‘Simple and complex’

Bjarke Ingels's 2016 Serpentine Pavilion©Iwan Baan

Bjarke Ingels’s 2016 Serpentine Pavilion

“Yes is more.” So goes Bjarke Ingels’ motto — a generally sensible subversion of Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist dictum “Less is more”. Ingels is the designer of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, the 17th in what has grow to be a London summer time institution. And it is fairly magical. The 41-year-old Dane has enjoyed a swift rise to the top of his profession, and this folly in the park offers a fairly good indication of why.

The structure is a deceptively easy, single idea that Ingels describes as an “unzipped wall”. But it is also the precise opposite of a wall, a sinuous shelter that is transparent and porous rather than a barrier. The architect jokes that this type of paradox — the capacity to enjoy a thing and its contrary simultaneously — is a favourite trick: he refers to it as “BIGamy”, a pun on the name of his practice, Big.


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Constructed from a series of stacked fibreglass boxes, his pavilion (which was apparently inspired by the ubiquity of the brick wall in London) manages to be both transparent and opaque, a structure that has solid presence and airy ephemerality. Stand in front of a box and appear up and you see appropriate via it, like an empty bookshelf turn your head a little to either side and it becomes a complicated hive, an Op Art stack. From the outdoors, its sculptural type resembles some sort of modernist chapel even inside, the nave-like volume feels surprisingly sacred, with a sort of spiritual depth emerging from Ingels’s simple idea.

Ingels, who is presently designing and building skyscrapers in New York, a plaza at Battersea Energy Station in London, and headquarters for Google in both California and London (alongside designer Thomas Heatherwick), emerged from OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s Rotterdam-primarily based practice. You can see the lineage in Ingels’s wit and potential to connect low and higher culture in an eye-catching notion.

A recent citation from his a single-time employer described him as “the 1st main architect who disconnected the profession fully from angst”. It is a exceptional suggestion, and, I consider, a barbed compliment. Ingels’s lightness of touch, his brilliance at presentation, his comic-book graphics, his legendary parties (his Venice Biennale do this year was aboard a pirate ship) and his potential to be genuinely entertaining when he speaks (painfully uncommon in an architect, even though Koolhaas himself has it too), opens him to accusations of superficiality. They do not look to bother him in the slightest.

Of course, a pavilion in the park is not the web site for angst anyway, so probably this is the wrong venue to commence to dissect one particular of architecture’s fantastic modern success stories. Alternatively we should get pleasure from a lightweight, uplifting and completely engrossing event space that manages to be both massive and intimate, basic and complicated.

This year the main pavilion is supplemented by 4 more summer homes, clustered around the folly that architect William Kent made for Queen Caroline in 1734. Stripped of the require to accommodate talks, coffee and nightlife, these are easier, smaller sized follies that constitute a swan song for departing director Julia Peyton-Jones, who inaugurated the pavilion programme in 2000. As a way of bringing avant-garde architecture to a wide audience for totally free it has been an astonishing good results.

None of the subsidiary designers has constructed something in London ahead of, and they have been given a genuinely cost-free rein. There is a cage of slender white uprights by London-born Asif Khan an engagingly loopy wave of bent plywood (creating benches and providing superb glimpses of sky via teardrop-shaped openings) by German/US practice Barkow Leibinger and an inversion of Queen Caroline’s summerhouse, tipped on its side and created into a luxury seating arrangement complete with niches by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi.

And there is Yona Friedman’s contribution, so ethereal that it is virtually invisible. Friedman, born in Hungary and now living in Paris, is 1 of architecture’s nearly-forgotten greats. The 93-year-old’s operate has been hugely influential, but he has constructed vanishingly tiny. His Serpentine creation, composed of hoops of steel and conceived as “a museum you can visit from the outside” is a riff on his notion of the “Ville Spatiale”, a city superstructure that could be effortlessly erected and adapted by residents from easy components. This is the briefest amuse-bouche from a visionary oeuvre that has but to obtain its full due.

The Serpentine Pavilion is a lot more about spectacle than it is about architecture but it allows architects to have entertaining — to create an idea into a hypertrophied model with no all the pressure of permanence and efficiency. This year’s pavilion appears a lot more like a pixelated rendering than a model, but the experience is visceral, an icy interior of true beauty. Hardly ever has the description “boxy” been such a compliment.

June ten-October 9,

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Section: Arts