The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion presents landmark buildings annually by well known architects who have not yet completed a structure in England. This year’s Pavilion, by Peter Zumthor, is the 11th commission in the Gallery’s annual series. The architect’s concept is the hortus conclusus, an enclosed garden that aims to: Isolate the visitor temporarily from the city in order to experience nature intensely within an interior space. To interrupt our fast paced busy lives ‘abruptly’ so that almost stunned by the stillness and beauty of the garden we will have the luxury to contemplate and observe and have a truly memorable experience.
‘…At the heart of Peter Zumthor’s Pavilion is a garden that the architect hopes will inspire visitors to become observers. Zumthor says his design ‘aims to help its audience take the time to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, start to talk again – maybe not.’ The design emphasises the role the senses and emotions play in our experience of architecture. With a refined selection of materials Zumthor creates contemplative spaces that evoke the spiritual dimension of our physical environment. As always, Zumthor’s aesthetic goal is to customise the building precisely to its purpose as a physical body and an object of emotional experience.
Zumthor has stated that ‘the concept for this year’s Pavilion is the hortus conclusus, a contemplative room, a garden within a garden. The building acts as a stage, a backdrop for the interior garden of flowers and light. Through blackness and shadow one enters the building from the lawn and begins the transition into the central garden, a place abstracted from the world of noise and traffic and the smells of London – an interior space within which to sit, to walk, to observe the flowers. This experience will be intense and memorable, as will the materials themselves – full of memory and time.’
Materials have always played an evocative as well as an essential role in the buildings designed by Zumthor. The 2011 Pavilion is constructed of a lightweight timber frame wrapped with scrim and coated with a black Idenden over scrim. Exterior and interior walls with staggered doorways offer multiple paths for visitors to follow, gently guiding them to a central, hidden inner garden. The covered walkways and seating surrounding this central space create a serene, contemplative environment from which visitors look onto the richly planted sunlit garden, the heart and focus of the building.
With this Pavilion, as with previous structures such as the famous Thermal Baths at Vals,
Switzerland, or the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Mechernich, Germany, Zumthor has emphasised
the sensory and spiritual aspects of the architectural experience, from the precise yet simple composition and ‘presence’ of the materials, to the handling of scale and the effect of light.
Piet Oudolf is a prominent garden designer and a leading figure of the New Perennial planting movement. His award-winning designs emphasise the natural architecture of plants, using expressive drifts of grasses and herbaceous perennials to create gardens that evolve in form throughout the lives of the plants. These are chosen for their structure, form, texture and colour, showcasing many different varieties in his compositions. Oudolf has pioneered an approach to gardening that embraces the full life-cycle of plants, delighting in their beauty throughout the seasons…’