I’m usually first past the post to visit the annual Serpentine Pavilion. In fact, i’d go so far to say that I anticipate it.
Over the years I’ve seen more than a few internationally renowned artists take up the challenge of designing a 300 square metre structure to take pride of place alongside one of London’s most exciting contemporary art galleries. With the intention of creating a cafe-cum-social space by day, and an entertainment space by night, I’ve always enjoyed putting the resulting structure through its paces with a young companion in tow. So imagine my disappointment this morning, as we drew closer to Francis Kéré’s bold blue structure, and my 4 year old decided to drop the clanger “I’m not going in there”.
I’ve always relished having kids that were open to everything, but here I was, in front of what was intended to be one of Serpentine’s most inclusive pavilions, and she had bailed. What on earth was I to do? I knew you’d be relying on me. I knew I had to think quick.
The artist was particularly keen on ensuring visitors to the pavilion remain ‘in nature’ whilst they view it, which means there’s plenty of scope to circumnavigate the space, without really feeling like you’re “in”. This was helpful. I could at least talk her into a scoot around the outside, and with four separate entrances and free-standing perforated walls, i’d at least get a good peek inside.
The whole structure is inspired by the canopy of a tree and its role as the centre of community in the artist’s native Burkina Faso. The focal point of the community, the tree offers shade and shelter, but it is also a social space, a meeting place where everyone in the village can come together.
Three quarters of the way round and we struck gold, in the form of a mound of plywood which had been fashioned into what appeared like a slide. A simple accessory to the centrepiece was shaping up to be our main event. Grateful for being thrown a lifeline, I dashed inside to check the rules of engagement with front of house staff, and at the wishes of the artist, we were free to explore. She slid down its shiny surfaces. She reclined in the (not quite) sunshine. She circled it like a mountain, and jumped free from its summit. So much more than a slide, this humble addition successfully recreates the collective gathering of children under the tree, a virtual kindergarten, allowing us ‘villagers’ the time and space to look on, to talk and to share stories.
Now sold on the structure, we ventured inside to the sweet smell of coffee. The central courtyard which kept us connected to nature, was the next big draw and we both loved seeing and feeling the outdoors inside. The seating here is strictly for bottoms and don’t allow the same level of adventure, but the wind in our hair and the stones under foot soon had us lost in our own thoughts, as if we were on a distant beach. All we needed was to be free of the overcast skies above and the world would be perfect.
Keen to quit whilst ahead (and grateful to have turned a thumbs down into a thumbs up), we headed off, over the road to the Diana Memorial Fountain for a paddle.
As we moved away from the pavilion, I could finally appreciate the expanse of the funnel-like roof in all its glory, ready and waiting for the dark clouds above us to kick it into action. Bound to nature, this creation really comes to life when it rains and any water collected on the roof is channeled into a spectacular waterfall effect, before being evacuated through the floor for later use within the park. This surely makes this one of the most simple, yet useful, pavilions we have ever visited.
Whatever the weather, it goes without saying that Serpentine Pavilion should be high on your day out ‘hit list’ this summer. Free, family friendly and lots of fun, it’s a visual feast that neither a grumpy pre schooler nor the British summertime can spoil.