Tree of Life:
The Serpentine Pavilion is a landmark of the London calendar and a critical space for exploration. Far from temporary, these illustrious structures have gone on to second lives all over the world, launching many a starchitect. Inspired by a tree from his African village, this summer belongs to Francis Kéré.
It’s hard to believe now, such is her impact, that when Zaha Hadid created the Serpentine Gallery’s first pavilion in the year 2000, she was having difficulty getting anything commissioned at all. Her first project in the UK, Hadid quite rightly went on to become a luminary over the course of the 00s. And came back to the Serpentine in 2013, making things permanent by launching the Sackler Gallery.
Aside from championing progressive architecture and the cultural dialogue that goes with it, the raison d’être of the summer pavilion is to give voice to a talent that’s not laid foundation on British soil before. Beyond Hadid, the pavilion project’s history reads as a roll call of the great and the good, from Frank Gehry to Olaf Eliasson to Ai Weiwei.
This year, Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist and CEO Yana Peel, encouraged by advisers Sir David Adjaye and Richard Rogers, welcome Francis Kéré to W2. By way of Burkina Faso and Berlin, the African’s structure brings with it an ambitious programme of engagement – including New York art world legends, musicians of the moment and dance performance workshops as part of the London-wide Shubbak festival of Arabic culture. “For us, Kéré’s work is really defined by his commitment to social engagement and sustainable design,” begins Peel. “His award-winning primary school project in Burkina Faso expresses his warmth and radical inclusion that make him the perfect fit for our vision for the pavilion.”
“In Gando, the Burkina Faso village where he grew up, life unfolded around the tree,” elaborates Obrist. “He is very inspired by the tree serving as a central meeting point for life, which also responds to the environment here in the park.”
In steel and wood, with a transparent skin, the shade of tree branches is evoked, with a large opening in the canopy.
“In times of rain, the roof becomes a funnel channelling water into the heart of the structure,” explains Kéré. “This rain collection acts symbolically, highlighting water as a fundamental resource for human survival and prosperity… In the evening, the canopy becomes a source of illumination.”
With free admission and park opening hours from early morning to dusk, an exciting characteristic of the pavilion project is in its relationship with the public – from joggers and dog walkers, to its space as a social hub, it is experienced in a number of ways, all of them joyfully unpredictable.
Whilst temporary in this setting, the pavilion is far from ephemeral, going on to live new lives afterward where they truly cement their roles – not unlike the way that Prouvé’s demountables, military shelter and temporary school of Villejuif, regarded as some of the 20th century’s most fascinating buildings, have become desired and celebrated.
Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania has embraced Sou Fujimoto’s pavilion, where it resides permanently, whilst Ivan Wirth brought Smiljan Radi?’s pavilion to the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Somerset. Bjarke Ingels’s structure of last year is set to make Vancouver home in 2019, after travelling across North America.
As for Kéré’s next project, that’s to be decided. But with this track record, watch this space.