The Serpentine Gallery’s annual Pavilion has become something of a landmark in London’s art and design calendar. In its 13 years it’s seen some of the most prominent figures in global architecture showcasing the breadth of their skills in a fast-paced, experimental environment that allows them to produce a structure that best demonstrates their architectural philosophy – a kind of temporary calling card for the world to enjoy. Frank Gehry, Peter Zumthor, Zaha Hadid and the late Oscar Niemeyer have all produced pavilions in the past decade or so, and it’s safe to say they’re all household names now, though some were not before their pavilions took shape.
This year’s Sou Fujimoto-designed structure has received no less publicity than we’d expect from such a high-profile architect exhibiting in one of the most highly-regarded art environments around. Fujimoto is the youngest architect ever to be invited to create a pavilion but despite his youth, he’s more than deserving of the honour; his Japanese practice is fast becoming one of the country’s most highly-respected architectural firms and regularly produces groundbreaking structural work.
But all this prestige is irrelevant if the thing doesn’t look good when you stroll round it, or fails to function as an exciting public space. That’s the point of these things after all, not simply to be seen but to be used by everyone. Thankfully Sou’s pavilion delivers on all fronts, offering a light, transient public space that feels functional and fit to purpose as well as being utterly breathtaking to behold.