…initiation@ The Serpentine summer pavilion by Peter Zumpthor

Many articles have been written about Zumpthor’s Serpentine pavilion and most of them involve analyses of the ‘black box’ or of the ‘secret garden’. Strangely, it has hardly been mentioned, what a powerful spatial experience is a visit to this folly. Especially if one has not read anything about it. You can see it on people’s faces when they enter: the initial disappointment over their first impression followed by the intrigued, almost playful discomfort when they go through the dark corridor that surrounds the inner box. And finally, the wide smile when they emerge into the light of the central garden.

There is something visceral and ancient about the initial descent into darkness and the eventual emergence into light. It is vaguely reminiscent of religious initiations where one needed to undergo
some sort of ordeal, in order to gain the reward in the end. The quality of the structure and the poor finishing are irrelevant to why people appreciate this pavilion. After all, this is an ephemeral structure and the choice of materials speak of its short-living status. Even the string of light-bulbs outside of it
attests that.

This little box appeals to the public because it addresses something fundamental in them. The spatial manipulation is powerful because it goes beyond most architects’ witty references or metaphors. This pavilion might be a simple shed but walking through it is an experience that evokes deep feelings which cannot be easily put into words. And this, by all means, is a characteristic of successful architecture.

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