Betwixt and Between
“My favourite moment of the evening was when the sky turned dark and the Pavilion gave a wonderful rainbow glow, like giant fireflies, hovering just above the green grass. There was certain lightness to the whole structure which could not be seen nor experienced during the day. Night time was when the caterpillars transformed into delicate bright coloured butterflies; a very different Pavilion emerged.”
The fifteenth Serpentine Pavilion by the young and upcoming Spanish architects Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano was unveiled last week, and although I was an avid fan of this cutting edge architecture programme – a unique platform for young upcoming architects to experiment – the architect in me was rather disappointed with the first look at this year’s Summer Pavilion by the Spanish duo. I was not really sure what to make of the rainbow coloured strange-looking polygonal structure. It vaguely resembled giant worms, or some form of chrysalis, or a spaceship hovering just above the ground, or was it supposed to be caterpillars or were they just rainbow coloured tubes?!? As an object, it was neither here nor there – its complex geometry clearly was not properly resolved. Anyway, my imagination decided that the Pavilion was two rainbow coloured giant caterpillars that had taken refuge in the beautiful setting of Kensington Garden for the summer. By the end of the season, they might transform into butterflies and fly away!
Less than enthusiastic first impression aside, I was determined to find positive elements about these giant caterpillars because odd looking they might be, there was also something subtle and compelling about the structure, which I could not quite put my finger on just yet. After all, good architecture was much more than physical appearance in my opinion, so I was more interested in how Selgascano dealt with the constraints of the project that resulted in these caterpillars. Unlike several other colleagues in architecture industry who commented on the poor craftsmanship of the structure, I felt that a six months timeframe from commission to construction completion was no time at all for all parties involved in this project to resolve every issue, especially if they wished to push the boundary of design and technology on a project this size, involving complex geometry. I did not even know what budget the design team had to begin with, so I certainly would not focus nor comment on the detailing because every experienced architects know that in real life projects, bespoke details tended to be reserved for high budget projects, and I had a strong feeling that this was not one of them…
After having visited the Pavilions on several occasions at different time of day (mostly because Kensington Garden was my local park… it was where I went jogging or took a break everyday), I finally found the answers during my attendance of the Serpentine Summer Party last night. Fortunately, the weather was just spectacular on the day. It was sunny, warm and of course being the 2nd July, the day was long, perfect conditions for an English Garden Party. During this occasion, I had more time to explore the Pavilion… walking around it, walking inside it, walking in-between its skins… The structure was really quite intriguing and rather fun to engage with! I enjoyed the bold contrasting colours, which I thought was perfect for the 15th anniversary party, and the opalescence glow the white ETFE skin gave when sunlight shone through it. The distorted rainbow reflections on its exterior skin were mesmerising to watch while my friend and I sat under a nearby tree to enjoy the evening’s canapé and celebrity watching. Under one of the entrances, the coloured ETFE ribbons which formed the roof casted wonderful pink, yellow and red shadows on the white canvas floor and on my white dress and skin too. It was quite a poetic experience… Something I planned to capture in my next article for sure! Being inside these colourful tubes, reminded me of an experience in children’s playground, except this time, I did not have to crawl! The structure surprised its visitors at every vantage point. It certainly come alive when there were people inside and around it. My favourite moment of the evening was when the sky turned dark and the Pavilion gave a wonderful rainbow glow, like giant fireflies, hovering just above the green grass. There was certain lightness to the whole structure which could not be seen nor experienced during the day. Night time was when the caterpillars transformed into delicate bright coloured butterflies; a very different Pavilion emerged.
To me, Selgascano’s Summer Pavilion was not to be perceived as an object, but as an ephemeral space, a form of complex organic mirror which reflected and filtered, while shifting and changing with time and different environmental conditions…
Here are some photographs of the Serpentine Summer Party evening. For my attempts to capture the ephemeral quality of this colourful Pavilion, please see my next post ‘Les Fauves Part 3: When Caterpillars Become Butterflies’