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I know this is beyond old news. In fact the pavilion has only one day to go until it is taken down. My article was so extremely delayed partly because of personal reasons and partly because I was so underwhelmed by this structure. Still I thought it made sense to write something about it, even if it is only for the records.

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Same as every year I try to turn a blind eye to the waste of money that the Serpentine is (this year Goldman-Sach’s money to be exact) and focus more on its artistic value. It is built as an architectural experiment in order to remind to the public that architecture is an art and it may carry strong representational and symbolic values. As Brian Eno pointed out in his John Peel lecture on BBC radio 6 recently, art is basically not necessary. Eno said that art in most areas of culture is exactly what one does not need in order to survive but ultimately is exactly what brings to us the greatest pleasure.

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Things get complicated with architecture because undoubtedly it is an art but a structure cannot really claim the title of “architecture” if people cannot enter it or use it. According to most historians this is the very reason why the Parthenon in Athens is not really considered a building. More often it is seen as sculptural work of art because it was never entered by the cult’s believers. Naturally I would not even try to associate this shiny-plastic worm of a “building” with the Parthenon. The only thing that they have in common is the fact that they both were not used as a shelter of any sort. Obviously I am exaggerating because the entrance to this year’s pavilion was not forbidden. However on the beautiful summer day that I visited it I witnessed people rushing out of it more than they were willing to stay in it. The reason was that it had a micro-climate. It was extremely warm and humid the fans which were installed inside had to work full time in order to make any short stay there bearable.

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Selgascano, the Spanish architectural office that won the commission was not aiming for that effect I am sure. They did not do much to anticipate it or prevent it either. No aesthetic goal is important enough (according to my standards) to counterbalance the lack of viability of a building.

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And this particular one did not even manage to reach a very high standard of aesthetics either. It looks cheap, the plastic looks and feels and like plastic and the ribbons give a juvenile and crafty air to it. Not to mention the metal structure which supports it that according to the contractors had to be extremely precise for the structure to hold nonetheless, managed to look totally random.

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The one real success of this year’s Serpentine pavilion is that it is very photogenic, hence it scored high Instagram-points. Appearances are most important nowadays, people are more keen to photograph their food than eat it. Therefore this hot-air balloon is both literally and metaphorically exactly that: bright colourful and totally devoid of substance and meaning.

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The Serpentine pavilion website here

Selgascano website here

Brian Eno’s John Peel Lecture here

 

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In the past I have loved to complain about the Serpentine Pavilion not so much about particular design reasons but rather because of what it generally represents: the architectural elite. Without researching much this year’s design (I had basically only heard that it was one of critics’ favourites) I went to Kensington Gardens.

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Initially this folly seems almost basic in shape. There is something ancient about it which I guess has to do with the organic-ness of its form and with the fact that its columns are sunk into really large stones placed on the lawn. Hence an illusion is created and the structure seems to be hovering over the ground. The most important reason for me liking this doughnut of a hut is that it is an introvert structure compared to most of its show-off-predecessors. And like most introverts, especially the shy and artistic types, it is full of surprises. Another reason is that it was clear to me that it was not designed for people only to come and look at it in awe. On the contrary it was made for people’s comfort, cosiness and intellectual stimulation. I run into all sorts of visitors, those who just came there to have a coffee and a chat, the ones that took hundreds of photos, studied and drew it like myself and those who just came in to take shelter from the rain.

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Whatever the reason everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy and study it. I have the impression that this is one of those truly inspirational buildings that make people who are not already involved in architecture, want to take an interest in it. And I believe that this is achieved through innovation. Like it or not this sort of building is not something that people bring to mind when they think of architecture.

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Of course as the saying has it, everything in the arts has been done before and as architects and critics of architecture would attest, many references to other designers can be spotted in this pavilion like for example Archigram or Future Systems. Regardless of how intriguing and stimulating this style of architecture is, it is at times too progressive for its own good because it makes it hard for people to identify with it. Not to mention that architecture that has little to no references to classical forms unfortunately often ends up looking rather tacky. I believe it is extremely difficult for architects to come up with forms that are truly innovative and still manage to attract the mainstream. Probably this is because most people crave for the new but are afraid of it as well hence they gravitate towards the old and familiar.

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Smiljan Radić seems very nice in the interviews I watched. He sounds very calm and collected and really involved in his art, in a non self absorbed way. Looking into his body of work I was happy to read that he hates signature buildings and that other than very few elements he has used before in other buildings most of his projects do not seem at all aesthetically related. That is of course because they have different programs and are made for various users and climates.

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His Serpentine pavilion’s recipe of success is that it looks like something that has landed here from outer space but also somehow looks like an ancient relic, a massive rock of Cyclopean mythic architecture. It is both old and new and it brought to my mind a sort of aesthetic that I find truly appealing: retrofuturism. Above all though it is an inviting shelter for the visitor and regardless of its weirdness it manages to keep a certain degree of humility. Its interior spaces on both ground and café level were packed with people who were not admiring it, they were just living! This is what I liked about it. My stay there was a half hour exposure to utopian futurism, but hey, forgive me for being a huge science fiction fan.

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Find the Serpentine Pavilion website here

Find more Smiljan Radic projects in Archdaily here

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