Finding more than fair-weather fun at Serpentine Pavilion

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.

Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8th October 2017.
Admission Free, Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Inspired by Francis Kéré’s stories of gathering, debate and community the Pavilion will become host to a series of picnic talks this summer, every Wednesday at 1pm until 23rd August.

There is also a Family Day on 22nd July. See website for details

Advertisements

9 family-friendly arts activities for this summer

If you’re looking for something different to do over the school holidays or struggling to find ways to occupy toddlers now that the playgroups are on summer lock-down, fear not! You haven’t already missed out on booking those one-off sought-after events and you don’t have to spend a fortune on big-ticket activities. Arts Aloud has a host of arts-based family fun that you can’t afford to miss!

1. All aboard the Floating Cinema Various London locations (including Regents Canal near Broadway Market E8 and Canalside Steps near Kings Cross, various times, admission £TBC, 20th Aug-20th Sept)
As well as a chance to venture off to some of London’s hidden canals and waterways, this is far more than a chance to watch a few films on a barge. UP Project’s award winning architectural structure returns to London this summer bringing a programme of film screenings, participatory events, workshops and talks, many of which are suitable for visiting families. This year’s theme, curated in partnership with artist / film-maker duo Somewhere (Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie) is a journey beyond earth and into space, and is set to include an immersive space odyssey, open air screenings of sci-fi cult classics and a summer space school. Sign up to the mailing list to hear full details of the programme when it launches.

2. Banish a rainy day in London’s artiest soft play Abbey Leisure Centre, Barking, Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-7pm, Thurs 10am-6pm, Sat & Sun 9am-6.30pm, admission for £1.50 for under 1’s, £4.50 under 3’s, £5.50 3-12 yrs. Age & height restrictions apply to some areas. Check website for details
Everything about this soft play is extraordinary, including it’s Barking location. Flying in the face of conventional multi-coloured soft play, The Idol’s monochrome appearance was the brainchild of Turner Prize-nominated artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and took inspiration from a Neolithic figure discovered in the borough in 1922. Kids can climb the two-storey-high climbing frame, venture into the mythical creature’s head and look out of its two giant eyes, before heading down a giant slide.

3. Explore poetry written just for kids in a secret corner of the Southbank Centre The Saison Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, Tues-Sun 11am-8pm, admission free
Believe it or not, during the school holidays you can still find a cosy quiet corner of the Southbank Centre. Take the marvellous JCB singing lift to the 5th floor and while away the day exploring some of the 200,000 items making up Britain’s most comprehensive collection of poetry, including a dedicated children’s section. Read your favourite poems and discover new ones, plus listen to poets perform on CDs and DVDs. Kids can even try their hand at writing their own using rhyming dictionaries. Plus for the very young there’s Rug Rhymes (24th Jul 10.30-11am, 25th July 11-11.30am, foyer spaces).

4. Listen to the sound of a masterpiece at Soundscapes The National Gallery, daily 10am-6pm, until 6th Sept, admission free for children under 12, adults £10, concessions available
If you’re intimated by by taking the kids into the silence of a gallery space, then worry not! Here’s one exhibition where they’ll be drowned out by the soundtrack. Soundscapes exhibition commissioned musicians and sound artists, from classical composers to club DJs, to select a painting from the collection and compose piece of music in response. The result is an immersive experience that allows you to ‘hear’ the paintings as well as see them.

5. Lose yourself in the Serpentine Pavilion Next to the Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, daily 10am-6pm until 18th Oct, admission free
Explore the secret corridors and pathways of this colourful cocoon by Madrid-based architects SelgasCano, and reward yourselves with a knickerbocker glory when you reach the middle. Read up on my most recent visit.

6. See the best in free street theatre on the National Theatre’s River Stage National Theatre, South Bank, various times, 24th Jul-30th Aug, River Stage admission free, fees apply to NT workshops
If you’re struggling to find theatrical delights to entertain kids of various ages, you’ll love the drop-in nature of this summer’s brand new River Stage. Playing to the strengths of its South Bank location, the recently created Riverside Square will be showcasing a host of free public performances at family-friendly times, including street theatre, live music, circus and dance. There’s also a programme of hands-on workshops for families and children to discover the skills and secrets behind productions in the Clore Learning Centre.

7. Discover playground design from the post-war era at the Brutalist Playground RIBA, 66 Portland Place, Mon-Sun 10am-5pm, Tues 10am-8pm, until 16th Aug, admission free
In contrast to today’s risk-averse playground surfaces, this part-sculpture, part architectural installation harks back to an era of post-war design which prioritised creating areas of play space for children within social housing, through making the best of the ruins of wartime devastation. Commissioned by Turner Prize nominees Assemble and artist Simon Terrill, this revival of now-lost Brutalist landscapes is a softer-squidgier version, recreated using foam-blocks to protect your little cherubs should they fall.

8. Take a baby-friendly gallery tour at the National Maritime Museum National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing Foyer, 5th Aug, 11am, parents & carers with children under 1 year, admission free, booking recommended
Finally another London arts institution inviting parents and carers with very young babies into their gallery space, to enjoy a talk with a squawk! Step forward the National Maritime Museum’s Curator of Art, Dr Melanie Vandenbrouck, who will lead you on a tour of art highlights around the site, including Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. If you need to divide and conquer, older kids (6-12 years) can join Punchdrunk’s immersive theatrical journey through the museum’s incredible maritime history, by joining the crew of HMS Adventure in Against Captain’s Orders (Daily until 31st Aug, admission £19.50, booking advised).

9. Follow the bear around an arts trail with a difference Pick up a free Pawprint Trail map from the Paddington Shop, Paddington Station, Mon-Fri 7.30am-7.30pm, Sat & Sun 9am-7pm
Last summer was awash with arts trails, from buses to bears. For those still crying into their marmalade sandwiches, lamenting the loss of Paddington from the streets, cry-not! Instead, seek out some familiar faces from last summer on the brand new Pawprint Trail. There’s 4 uniquely decorated Paddingtons to spot, as well as a Water Maze, unusual mechanical bridges and a Puppet Theatre Barge, all housed in this hugely underrated area of West London. Grab a map from the Paddington Shop in Paddington Station, where you can also buy a furry friend to take on your way. Read more in Londonist.

Colour me happy at the @SerpentineUK Pavilion 2015

Imagine if, instead of a cocoon that was drab and brown, Eric Carle had given us a sneak-preview of our friend The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a magnificent multi-coloured butterfly. Well this year’s 15th annual Serpentine Pavilion is a great indication of exactly what that might have looked like.

Approaching through a sea of greenery that is the beautiful Kensington Gardens, prepare to be hit by a wall of colour followed by a frisson of excitement at the prospect of losing yourselves in this brand new magical space.

Designed by Madrid based architects SelgasCano, this unusual polygon, made from panels of translucent, multi-coloured polymer, was inspired by the chaotic yet structured way that us Londoners move around our city. The result is a maze-like structure, with ‘secret corridors’ between its outer and inner layers, creating a fun, interactive and welcoming space for visitors of all ages.

Wherever you choose to enter or exit the Pavilion, each path walks you through a variety of colours and fractures of light before eventually leading you into the kaleidoscope interior. The process of walking in and out of the tunnels will feel strangely addictive, with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to rush back in as soon as you find yourself on the outside of the fun.

For visitors hoping to find an airy shade for little ones on a sunny day, you might be disappointed. On the day of my visit, the temperature was upwards of 25 degrees, creating a near greenhouse effect as layers trapped warm air inside rather than providing free-flow. That said, however, once you’re inside, you’re definitely in the best place, with Fortnum & Mason in residence serving cold drinks, ice cream scoops and even a Knickerbocker Glory, providing the perfect compliment to this colour therapy for keeping everyone happy.

As well as a playful public space by day, the Pavilion is a forum for learning, debate and entertainment by night, with Park Nights bringing together art, poetry, music, film and literature, every Friday between July and September.

With such a stunning setting, it’s easy to while away a day here with the kids, particularly if you are considering combining it with a visit to Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Serpentine Lido or even the nearby Science Museum or Natural History Museum. Visit on Sunday 5th July and you’ll get the added treat of the gallery’s Family Day (12-5pm, admission free) promising free, artist-led events open to families with children of all ages.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is open daily 10am-6pm until 18th October 2015, admission free.

** NOTE The Pavilion is closed to the public on 2nd and 3rd July for private function**

Nearby: Walk 5 minutes over the bridge to neighbouring Serpentine Sackler Gallery, where kids will marvel at the work of artist Duane Hanson, who has created incredible life-like sculptures portraying working class Americans in everyday life. With meticulous details such as body hairs, veins and bruises, every figure makes you double take, particularly if your little ones are prone to giggling and staring at statue street performers for hours on end.