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The role of public interactive spaces – The Serpentine Pavilion (2012)

The Serpentine Gallery is an art gallery situated in Hyde Park, London. Every summer since the year 2000 it has been commissioning Architects design a pavilion in the gallery’s lawn that portrays contemporary architectural practices; this year’s being designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Ai Weiwei.

Image 1: Plan of Serpentine Pavilion 2012 (Dezeen)

Unveiled beginning this June, the Pavilion is a low roof space with many small and large steps. The idea of the designers was to dig a trench until they hit the shallow groundwater of the region, in the process find archaeological traces of the past pavilions, and line the trenches with cork – a sustainable material with its unique tactile quality reflective of earth. Also, they intended to create reflective pool as a roof to this trench which would collect the rain water. The trench exposing the past traces of the pavilion (depicted by eleven cork columns) and a twelfth supporting column would recharge the well by draining water from the pool. Ib the process the designers stance which appealed the most to me, and presumably to the public is its intriguing nature – a quality which almost every small public space demands these days in an exaggerated way.

Image 2: The process (Dezeen)

On the outside when one approaches the Pavilion, the subtly undulating ground around lets you reach a level from where you can touch the pool, while the other side brings you down to a level where the pool then becomes like a roof and lets you enter underneath. The almost dark area with levels going down makes the user extremely cautious and yet curious to try and reach different levels. The tactility of the cork expresses the dampness of the area; also the light weight of the material makes the furniture mobile; with users constantly changing the furniture positions according to their needs.

Image 3: The Pavilion roof and the undulating ground around (The Telegraph, UK)

I sat there for around three hours merely observing people, sipping a cup of tea, reading and writing, and so were everyone else. And almost after a couple of hours I suddenly realised the darkness of the space, the tactile quality of cork and the smell of dampness made people aware of themselves to a greater degree, people were in groups, and yet they’re with themselves – it was a very spiritual experience. Everyone was disconnected from the chaos of the city, and was in their very pragmatic nature of behaviour – respecting each other’s presence and space – almost in the state of hypnosis.

The clue I gather from its design is that as a designer one need not design the whole system, rather just delve into the subject to an extent, and then let the users define the scope for its evolution. A huge credit goes to the designers of the Pavilion for creating such a pure space, in its philosophical, metaphorical, material and spatial senses. As our cities today are expanding, and becoming more and more intricate, we need to have such small pocket of meaningless spaces where users lose themselves and give its own meaning.

Image4: The Pavilion’s interior space (The Serpentine Gallery)

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