Summer Pavilion by SANAA

SANAA outside

If someone was to ask you ‘what is a pavilion?’ you could do worse than point them towards the silvery piece of contemporary architecture unveiled outside London’s (free) Serpentine Gallery last week. This construction is all about summer and its joys. It’s a conversation piece in its own right, an architectural folly, with no more serious function than to delight and give a little shelter.

It works, it works in every way. It extends a pretty forceful invitation to pay attention to it, but also, to quieten down. Yesterday, a sultry Sunday afternoon, it was full of visitors, strolling, looking, photographing, snacking, just sitting and hanging out and, because it’s rather large, even  strolling. It seemed to me many were also admiring the beauty of the place.

SANAA cafe

SANAA is a small but famous firm of Japanese architects started in the mid-1990s by Kazyuje Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Their work is the latest and, so the reviewers and critics are saying, so far the most successful of the pavilion projects commissioned for the space at the Serpentine.

It’s an amoeba-shaped undulating aluminium roof supported on slim pillars. Parts of it are open on the sides, others are partially enclosed. It mirrors the world on both sides, inspiring amateur photographers from below, professionals from above.

It does have functions. It is used for the gallery’s Park Nights events and in October it will be used for a poetry marathon. It’s also host to a small cafe whose concoction of thyme and tonic water provided an appropriately delicate refreshment for the space.

The architects’ own blurb and some reviewers focus on the obvious feature of a summer pavilion, its openness to the outside, but you don’t have to read the text to get into it. Visitors can also see fine detailing and admire Arup’s engineering.

Here the public can freely if temporarily enjoy what feels like an expensive piece of work. But really it’s a place that inspires you to look, to dwell, to listen and possibly even to feel, and so it adds to life. The many sponsors behind this (almost) annual opportunity for temporary architectural beauty are to be congratulated and thanked. Anyone could enjoy this.

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