The Lightness of the Massive

architect Junya Ishigami
project Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2019, London, United Kingdom
written by Deyan Sudjic

The Serpentine Gallery was a tea room once. It stands at the centre of one of London’s most popular royal parks, close to the site of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace installed for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and subsequently dismantled. The gallery looks like a baroque brick palace, built on the scale of a doll’s house, equipped with diminutive turrets and symmetrical colonnades. Over the last 20 years it has been juxtaposed with almost every ideological tendency in contemporary architecture, in the shape of a sequence of temporary pavilions from an inflatable structure designed by Rem Koolhaas to Peter Zumthor’s mud-walled garden of weeds and wild flowers. The short-lived nature of the relationship has allowed all kinds of juxtapositions that the conventional wisdom on contextualism, as well as the town planning regulations, have outlawed. Each year the Serpentine has remained its urbane and elegant self, while it has been pushed into the close embrace of a succession of increasingly excitable, sometimes eccentrically dressed dance partners each trying to tempt it into life. This year at least the Serpentine is remaining firmly seated refusing to dance for fear Junya Ishigami’s heavy-handed pavilion tramples its delicate toes.