Serpentine Pavilion by architect Lina Ghotmeh invites us to engage with architecture in new ways
The Serpentine Pavilion is designed to be stumbled upon. This much-anticipated annual project sees a temporary structure built on Kensington Gardens by the Serpentine South gallery in Hyde Park, London. The building will remain here for the summer, with the space free and open to the public for a casual coffee, a spot of lunch, a moment of reflection, or shelter from the sun, or rain. In the evening the pavilion will host events, talks, music and more. Then at the end of its park life, if sold to a private buyer (they almost always are), the structure is moved to its new home, where it begins its second life. Lina Ghotmeh, the architect behind the 22nd Serpentine Pavilion says, “Hopefully, it takes the memory of here to its next place.”
Despite being widely recognised with projects that include Stone Garden Housing in Beirut and the Hermès workshop in Normandy, this marks the Paris-based Ghotmeh’s first construction in the UK. Her ‘À Table’ is a delicate circular timber structure made very much in the spirit of an architectural folly. It is designed to be lightweight, feel organic, and follow the rhythms of nature, with the roof echoing branches of surrounding trees, and screen walls, with their laser-cut leaf motifs, opening up to park life. ‘We can learn a lot from nature’s ingenuity,’ she says.
Ghotmeh wanted the building to be an expression of the moment, to reflect on our time and its challenges. For this, she returned to her past. She says, ‘Growing up in Beirut during the war, I remember the importance of places of assembly, of architecture as a way to bring people together, and as a way to bring us closer to nature and beauty.’
The ritual of sharing food around a table would naturally lead to discussions, often heated ones, on personal lives and dreams. ‘The idea came from memories of my childhood of being together gathered around food, and food being the moment we felt rooted in our earth,’ says the architect.
‘À Table’ thus invites us to take a moment, sit together at a table, and engage and participate in dialogue while sharing food. To facilitate this and create a place for assembly, Ghotmeh has designed a concentric communal table and matching wooden seats, executed by the design firm Conran, that circles the pavilion interior. She has also crafted an organic menu for the pavilion café as a way to further consider the impact of what we eat on the environment. She says, ‘If we eat differently, we can form different relations to Earth.’
And her pavilion connects very naturally to the surrounding nature and forms conversations with the Serpentine South’s summer exhibition by Tomás Saraceno, which is a powerful commentary on ecology and our fragile earth.
Ghotmeh speaks of digging for historical references to see how this space resonates with history and memories, with the design honouring the Serpentine’s origin as a teahouse. ‘It’s about this moment of being under a roof, giving us a serenity, some slow time in our fast times. And I hope to see children running around here like a carousal,’ she says, smiling at the fantasy merry-go-round structure she’s designed.
Since its inaugural building by the late Zaha Hadid in 2000, the Serpentine Pavilion commission remains a critical platform for introducing international architects whose work may otherwise not be visible in this county. Serpentine’s CEO Bettina Korek says, ‘The genesis of the pavilion was in how you can show architecture without it being drawings and models; how can we build and create these platforms for architects. The pavilion fulfils our mission to create connections between artists and society.’
The Serpentine Pavilion asks us to engage with architecture in new ways. It naturally expands the audience for design and, in the case of Ghotmeh’s ‘À Table’, invites us to sit around a communal table, eat, drink and converse with friends, family and maybe even strangers. And all in the midst of one of our loveliest parks.
Serpentine Pavilion 2023 by Lina Ghotmeh. Image one and three © Harry Richards For Serpentine Galleries
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