Steel, plastic and design freedom

A new public pavilion in London is an interesting experiment in the architecture of materials. It is a stripped down podium of steel and plastic – and nothing else – which sounds elementary but which is worth taking a close look at.

The annual Serpentine gallery commission is free from the practicalities of locals laws and the building code – even its programme of requirements is rudimentary. It can be seen as ‘pure’ architecture and it is therefore a worthwhile object of analysis.

What do we see here? On an open field, a metal structure made of steel 20 mm squared tubes that are painted brilliant white. The design consists of a large number of little boxes, each about 30 cm across, made from these steel bars. The boxes jut out and are piled on top of each other, creating steps, seats, paths and roofs.

The latticed construction covers almost 360 m2, and its seemingly arbitrary composition looks different from each angle. At two ends, the composition of steel poles open up to create the haziest of entrances, allowing access to what could be called the ‘inside’ of the pavilion. Under cover, you notice that shelter is granted by an array of plastic polycarbonate discs, which are round and transparent.

In stark contrast to the greenery of London’s centrally located Hyde Park in which it is set, the orthogonal pile of shiny metal rods is like a small-scale skyscraper with none of the trimmings. This is why it’s so accessible, and so open to interpretation. It’s fun to look at, to walk around – and over, and under, and through – and to sit in, relax, think, talk.

The Pavilion is the 13th in a series of unpaid commissions for the Serpentine Gallery. It was dreamed up by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (1971), who previously caused a stir with his Final Wooden House, to which this pavilion bears conceptual similarity.

This work allows a fascinating look at what contemporary architects are dreaming up. Removed from pragmatic constraints, this is the type of commission which demonstrates how architects think and shows what possible futures they envisage.

The gallery is open until 20th October 2013.

Image credits: Iwan Baan, Archdaily, Sou Fujimoto Architects