As the Serpentine Pavilion 2023 completes and prepares to open its doors to the public later this week, there's hope that this spring's few, timid days of sunshine in London will make for a slow-burn, warmer summer. And once temperatures rise - and even if not - the latest iteration of the Serpentine Galleries' Kensington Garden annual summer special will be there to provide not only shelter (from the hot sun - or drizzle), but also a place to sit, socialise, relax and appreciate public architecture.
And this is exactly what the French-Lebanese architect behind it, Paris-based Lina Ghotmeh, was hoping for, when she first conceived of her design. Titled 'À table,' the Serpentine Pavilion this year is envisioned as an open and democratic invitation for everyone to come together and enjoy nature, architecture, serenity, and each other's company.
The Serpentine Pavilion 2023 is unveiled
Ghotmeh's design seems easy to read - a round arrangement of seating, set in a circular pattern, topped by a pleated, softly conical roof held up by timber posts. The 'circle' on floorplan can be divided into nine equal sections, and from those sections, the building's patterns arise - from the exposed beams on the ceiling, to the timber floor arrangement and its two rows of columns which dot the periphery - gently merging form and function. Its wooden structure was put together in collaboration with engineers Aecom and construction studio Stage One - and the entire pavilion was built predominantly from bio-sourced and low-carbon materials, its creators explain. This resonates with Ghotmeh's overall ethos, which favours sustainable architecture. There are perforated screens in the shape of leaf cut-outs, and bespoke furniture where visitors can sit. And of course, as always, this is all free, and soon to be open to the public to enjoy.
This openness and public availability were key drivers when it came to the design development. 'When I got the commission, I was thinking that this pavilion [series] is always expressing the zeitgeist. How can mine do that? I thought about the importance of places of assembly. Also something that brings us closer together. A table unites this and memories from my childhood, moments where we are all routed to earth,' Gohtmeh said at the launch celebrations. 'I wanted to make a place of assembly. Also it's this moment to feel calm under a roof, something where we are protected and feel serenity. But I also hope to see a lot of children running around here.'
The Serpentine Pavilion 2023 architect: Lina Ghotmeh
As is traditionally the case, this is Ghotmeh's first realised commission on London soil. The architect, who heads a medium sized practice in Paris, has worked on a number of built and unbuilt schemes so far - including the Maroquinerie de Louviers by Hermès in France, and the Stone Garden apartment block in Beirut - and has many more in the pipeline. When she got a call from Serpentine last year, she was surprised to find out it was about the pavilion. She was invited to make a proposal, which she did, and got the commission.
Her approach appears confident and balances this with sensitivity, as context and material always play a key role in the architect's designs. With the Serpentine Pavilion 2023, this was also the case, as she took her cues from the existing surrounding structures, trees and planting in order to carve her volumes. The result, is a semi-open, light installation that feels subtle in its natural setting. 'It is a structure that’s meant to be really lightweight and can be transferred in the future,' Ghotmeh explains, highlighting the pavilion's ability to have an afterlife.
The Serpentine Pavilion 2023 hopes to fly the flag for a sense of coming together, as well as a slowing down and contemplating, nurturing a feeling of community and nature.
It opens to the public on the 9 June and will remain there, hosting a variety of events on a rolling programme, until 29 October 2023.