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Breaking the Grid
Sou Fujimoto's ethereal Serpentine Pavilion opens in London.
Iwan Baan

Hovering like fog in Kensington Gardens, the ethereal new pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery opened last week and will remain in place through October 20. Designed by the 41-year old Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the structure is a poetic expression of both Euclidean geometry and the limits of human perception.

Jim Stephenson; Iwan Baan

Comprised of a series of grids of white rods, which have been broken in places to make openings and voids, the pavilion creates a varied experience for the visitor according to his or her approach to the structure as well as weather and light conditions. From afar, the grids appear cloud-like, seemingly dissolving into sunlight. Up close the grids are more legible, but only on very close inspection is it clear that the grids also hold glass risers and railings allowing visitors to climb onto and into Fujimoto’s design. According to a statement, Fujimoto intends the pavilion to act as “a transparent terrain that encourages people to interact with and explore the site in diverse ways. Within the pastoral context of Kensington Gardens, I envisage the vivid greenery of the surrounding plant life woven together with a constructed geometry.”

Iwan Baan

Fujimoto is lesser-known than many previous Serpentine designers, which have included such luminaries at Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Toyo Ito, Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei, and Peter Zumthor. He has previously designed a series of utterly original houses with nested volumes set within frames. His notable works include the T House, House N, the Musashino Art Museum and Library at the Musashino Art University, all of which are in Japan. The Serpentine Pavilion commission has tracked closely to the Pritzker Prize (either proceeding it or following close behind), so chances are Fujimoto will be taking a larger role on the global stage in coming years.

Alan G. Brake


Sou Fujimoto (right) and his sketch of the Serpentine Pavilion (left). A rendering shows the siting of the pavilion adjacent the Serpentine Gallery (below).
Courtesy Sou Fujimoto Architects; David Vintiner; Studio Cyrille Thomas for Sou Fujimoto Architects