This year the Serpentine Summer Pavilion is a wooden structure, inspired by Mediterranean and African architecture. Designed by Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh the building is featured here in 360 panoramic views. Ghotmeh envisioned the space as a meeting point around a large circular table in the heart of London in the historic setting in Kensington Gardens.
While planning the exhibition, chief curator Frédéric Migayrou worked very closely with Norman Foster, who was ultimately in charge of the over-arching concept. His meticulous attention to detail shows throughout. It’s the first ever show on the top floor galleries of the Pompidou Centre dedicated to architecture, which brings a special kind of aura to the contents on display. Exploring the most important projects and sources of inspiration, it’s a showcase for key ideas behind the Pritzker-prize-winning architect’s creative process.
Although Foster does not entirely approve of the concept ‘High Tech’ architecture in relation to his own approach, he is recognised as the leading architect of that movement. In the press conference I asked what is it that he disliked about the High Tech definition, and he explained that he mainly objects the stylistic association with glass and steel, and clearly wants to bring attention beyond that to other aspects in his large and hugely influential body of work. However, the formal language behind the buildings designed by Foster + Partners is a culmination of ideas and approaches that have been enabled by technological innovation, and the fascination towards the technological reality of objects. In Foster’s designs key principles of Modernism have been appropriated and translated in response to contemporary scientific developments and material innovations.
If architecture exhibitions can sometimes seem dry and boring (as Jacques Herzog has famously commented), in this one the abundance of material and different juxtapositions of objects is enlightening. Entering the first gallery we are immediately confronted with what lies at the heart of Foster’s creative method: drawing and sketching. The walls are covered by material retrieved from his enormous archive, showing a development in Foster’s research process spanning six decades. In the middle there is a long vitrine, containing over 200 spreads from his A-4 sketchbooks. Starting from 1975, observations and thoughts are recorded in these books, of which there are over 2000, according to Migayrou. The continuity of this material is impressive.
In the next gallery projects are represented through framed drawings and renderings, videos and architecture models, as well carefully constructed 3-D dioramas, which are rarely seen in architecture exhibitions. They certainly clarify meanings, adding a level of information to explain some of the formal connections for the general public. Some of the architecture models have been created especially for this exhibition. Through their scale and detailing, the development of Foster’s formal language can be observed and studied.
Objects by artists and architects, who have inspired Foster over the years are scattered in the middle of the gallery amongs his own architectural works. Some of them are from Foster’s private collection, like the restored vintage automobile owned by Le Corbusier. Richard Buckmister Fuller’s Dymaxion car, and a stripped metal body of a Mercedez-Benz 300 SL model, are reminders of Foster’s obsession with dynamic technical systems and structures. Artworks by Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi and Ai Weiwei illustrate formal inspirations.
There are seven main themes in the exhibition. The overarching idea is Foster’s belief that the climate crisis can be resolved through technological research. ‘Vertical Cities’ is one of the themes and a guiding idea of Foster’s urban strategy, where the high-rise building is seen as ‘one the best inventions of the modern era’. It’s an idea in line with Modernist principles, and which Foster believes is also the most ecological solution in dense urban environments. He believes that each crisis will generate new urban forms and thus make the city more resilient. “I’m not complacent. I share the concern about rising sea levels and global warming. We are pursuing strategies for renewable energy, and huge strides have been made”, Foster argues.
Foster’s ideological models are founded on, and still underpinned, by 1960’s optimism, the ‘big acceleration’ of technological revolution. As a young architect in the United States Foster worked on experimental projetcs at Buckminster Fuller’s office, which shaped the recent graduate’s thinking, as well as the Californian Case Study houses program, designed out of simple, inexpensive elements. Other influential figures in Foster’s early years were Louis Kahn, Christopher Alexander, and his teachers from Yale Paul Rudoplh and Serge Chermayeff.
As a culmination of Foster’s futuristic aspirations, the exhibition introduces some of the projects developed in collaboration with NASA, in which architecture moves to outer space. Designs for stations on the Moon and on Mars are part of an architectural strategy, demonstrating how Foster + Partners continues to look forward, always motivated by expanding what is possible technologically. In order to find ecological solutions, the starchitect strongly believes that technology will eventually save the planet.
There are different reasons why airport terminals become obsolete. One of the main problems in some of the 1960s designs, was their lack of flexibility. And some were just too close to the city centre, like the historic Tempelhof airport in Berlin, which is now a multifunctional exhibition space. The iconic TWA terminal by Eero Saarinen was given the status of an architectural landmark on national Register of Historic Places in New York State, while still in use in 1994. Its souring volumes have now been restored to their former glory, housing an airport hotel in exceptional circumstances.
Designed as part of the JFK Airport in New York, the TWA terminal is the most famous building by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen (1910 – 1961). Commissioned by the business magnate and film producer Howard Hughes, who was then the owner of the Trans World Airways company, the terminal was completed in 1962. It was an instantly recognisable architectural concept, which represented the excitement and glamour of air travel before the onset of mass tourism.
In Saarinen’s short career he was commissioned to design three airport terminals. The distinctive form of the TWA terminal gained the most attention and became an icon of the golden age of aviation, while also receiving criticism already at the time. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner preferrred the more sober and linear structure of the Dulles Airport in Washington, which remains in use in its original form. In Athens the main airport was moved further away from the city centre, but the terminal building by Saarinen has been preserved. Saarinen passed away in 1961 and never saw the finished terminals.
His father Eliel Saarinen was one of the leading architects at the height of National Romanticism in Finland, a movement influenced by motifs found in nature. The family emigrated to America when Eero Saarinen was thirteen. He graduated from Yale, and worked first in his father’s office. In the TWA design, as well as in his iconic furniture designs, such as the Tulip chair, we can see an abstracted and sculptural relation to natural forms, reinterpreted as a result of material and technological innovation.
Saarinen had been part of the jury in the architectural competition for the Sydney Opera House, which also informed Saarinen’s approach while designing the TWA terminal. Behind the bold architectural language of these two buildings there was a complex system of structural engineering, breaking away from the modernist principles of straight lines and plain functionality. Both buildings mark the early phase of an era when computers came to be part of the design process.
While modernist architectural space was often defined through rigid geometries, in the terminal design Saarinen introduced organic relationships and a flow of connections throughout the building. Saarinen was able to use calculations made by computers in order to realize such formal continuity. The spatial organisation inside the free-form envelop made of concrete shells was the outcome of Saarinen’s artistic vision and innovative methods. Hughes as the client – a leading player in Hollywood film industry – surely had a strong influence on the development of such a strong architectural narrative and expression.
Today spatial flexibility is a leading principle in airport design, so that terminals can respond to changing requirements. For the TWA terminal Saarinen had delivered an architectural concept, which could not be adapted with the rapid change in aviation and and the wider aircraft sizes of the jet age. In comparison to Dulles airport, the TWA terminal’s structure was not flexible and hence became obsolete at the end of last century. Although an icon of 1960s architecture, the TWA terminal shows the difficulties inherent in the most sculptural forms of architecture.
The terminal was closed in 2001, and remained empty for sixteen years. In 2015 a privately funded redevelopment started to convert the terminal into a hotel. In the category of airport hotels, it’s a rare example: a unique aesthetic experience imbued with cultural history. There are 512 guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, made with thick glass blocking all the aircraft noise.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of Alvar Aalto’s birth. A series of events will take place to celebrate his legacy. To know the intimate side of Aalto, explore his home in Helsinki on this virtual tour.
Functional, simple, and comfortable – it’s one of the iconic homes of 20th century. Designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto and completed in 1936, this house in the Munkkiniemi district in Helsinki, Finland, exemplifies the changing standards of 20th century modern living.
As an example of early 20th century Scandinavian design and architecture, it’s difficult to find a more complete and well preserved site. The house remained a family residence until 1998 and most of the original features and objects there are intact. Now it’s maintained by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, and open to the public as a museum.
Within the development of modernist architecture and design, Alvar Aalto’s approach is known for an intuitive ability to play with spatial dynamics, light and materiality. The house also contains a studio space, where the architectural office was based until the mid-fifties. It represents the modernist ideal, where functionality has been achieved without the loss for comfort. The free design of the plan and the facade, as well as the unhidden structural elements around the house, exemplify key modernist principles, interpreted for this Nordic context.
Through experiments with bent wood Alvar Aalto created different models of chairs and tables. The home is furnished with designs, which represent a modernist sensibility influenced by natural forms and phenomena. Many of these pieces are still in production by Artek, the company founded in 1935, where Aino Aalto was an influential director.
A timeless appeal lies in the simplicity of the Aalto home. The enduring modernist aesthetic and the materials that reference nature are part of a strong cultural heritage, which still informs Finnish contemporary architecture. Elements and formal solutions of this building are reinterpreted in today’s architecture and many of Aalto’s design objects can be found in homes and public buildings all over the world.
Black Chapel is a dark cylindrical pavilion designed by artist Theaster Gates for the Serpentine Gallery in London. In dialogue with iconic sacred architecture, this year’s Summer Pavilion is the largest volume to date in this programme for exhibiting temporary architecture. It’s 10 meters high with an open oculus on top, which creates a play with passing time and weather conditions inside the space.
The oculus and the circular volume recall the Pantheon in Rome, but here as a contemporary interpretation, stripped of all ornamentation and classical references. Besides sacred historic architecture, Gates plays with ideas from industrial buildigs, such as kilns for clay-making, and also mentions the Rothko Chapel as inspiration. In the press release Gates stated that: “It is my hope that Black Chapel will achieve the honorific, interrogate the sacred and encourage the social.”
Accentuated by the circular form and the dark interior, with entry and exit points to the east and west, there is a sense of mysterious togetherness in this formal conception. A path leads through the quiet volume, making you aware of physical presence and others sharing the space in a solemn and sensuous way. The structural simplicity of the construction does not call attention to itself like some of the earlier pavilion designs. The ones by Daniel Liebeskind (2001), Toyo Ito (2002), or Oscar Niemeyer 2003) were famous for their sculptural formal experiments.
In recent years the pavilion has been more focused on materiality, and as a temporary structure, with increasing attention to sustainability in the materials used. This year the pavilion is constructed with structural timber clad in modular plywood panels, which can be easily demounted. It’s a lightweight structure – with wall thickness of just 9 mm – designed to be reinstalled elsewhere eventually. The precast concrete foundations are also designed to be removed and reused.
Chicago-based Theaster Gates worked in partnership with Adjaye Associates, the architectural studio founded by David Adjaye. Although several artists have previously collaborated in the Serpentine Summer Pavilion design, the Black Chapel is the first one credited primarily to an artist. In the same way as Olafur Eliasson (2007 pavilion with Kjetil Thorsen) and Ai Weiwei (2017 pavilion with Herzog & de Meuron) Theaster Gates is known for his crossdisciplinary artistic approach. Urban projects to reinvigorate abandoned spaces are part of his practice. He is the founder of Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit platform in Chicago for strengthening communities through arts programs.
As an architectural showcase the Summer Pavilion allows for creative experimentation, and strong personal expression, beyond the reach of traditional architecture exhibitions. The location in the very heart of London, in the crossroads of Kensington Gardens, makes it accessible to a wide range of audiences, also for unexpected chance encounters for people passing through the park. As a showcase for architectural design, the Summer Pavilion always brings a new, contemporary dynamic to the Royal Parks.
Attention to the ground works surrounding the pavilion on this historic site is always immaculate, enabled by financial support from Golden Sachs, Thermes and LUMA Foundation. Technical expertise was provided this year from Aecom, an engineering firm where the team focused on small details of the cylindrical structure and minimizing materials used. Ethical sourcing of materials was supported by Grace Farms Foundation.
It’s always fascinating to follow the different narrative forms and ideas that have been seen in the Summer Pavilion designs over the past two decades. Gates’s circular form could be seen in correspondence with Koolhaas’ (2006) and Kéré’s (2018) pavilions, as well as the rectangular simplicity of Zumthor’s (2011). The name Black Chapel is a continuation with Gates’ project for the Haus der Kunst in Munich, perhaps as an homage to the late curator Okwui Enwezor, while also reminding of David Adjaye’s previous residential projects.
Open every day until October 16th, the pavilion is a space for quiet contemplation, as well as a special venue for hosting cultural events over the summer. The black-stained timber seems to absorb sound onto its matt surface and a sense of mysticism lies inside the pavilion. The height and the cylindrical volume enhance the acoustic properties of the timber structure, which will no doubt make the pavilion a great spot for all the musical performances and events that will take place over the summer. There will be a wide range of styles, from minimalist, experimental piano music, to contemporary jazz and The Choir of London Oratory performance, to look forward to.
Seven abstract paintings by Gates are displayed inside. It’s the first time that the Summer Pavilion concept includes artworks. Although Serpentine Gallery is an institution for contemporary art, until this year, the pavilion itself has been a purely architectural commission.
Serpentine Pavilion 2022, 10 June – 16 October 2022
Two major projects for art institutions designed by Frank Gehry were completed this summer. Both initiated in 2007, but each one as different from the other as could be. The LUMA Foundation building in the South of France in Arles is signature style Gehry, a fractured facade playing with light, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a subtle reorganisation of a 1928 neo-classical building. Both though conceived to revive the urban context surrounding them.
Gehry himself came to Arles for the official opening of the LUMA building. It was commissioned by Maja Hoffmann, the founder of the cultural institution, who collaborated closely on the building’s conception. As Gehry pointed out at the press conference: ”Hoffmann was not just a client, but a fantastic artist on her own.” While looking at the project as their joint project, you can see her strong influence in the architectural concept. Gehry’s highly expressive architectural language has been criticised and his flamboyant Tower as if in conflict with the historic city : too expressive, too high, why a tower, too lavish, not ecological. So when Gehry and Hoffmann entered the press conference in June, you could sense that they were prepared to defend their ambitious project.
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Perhaps what was most pressing for both Hoffmann and Gehry was trying to defend the architectural concept amidst claims that it was too wasteful. Indeed the façade constructed with 10,752 steel modules in total, is an elaborate construction, which does not evoke an ecological approach. To counteract this, Hoffmann has invested in transforming the former industrial yard, which had been a dead zone, into a lush state-of-the-art landscaped garden extending below Gehry’s tower. Designed by Belgian Landscape architect Bas Smets, the area is an experiment in creating a microclimate in this arid landscape, complete with a pond. Water has been diverted from the nearby canal. Smets described the challenges of growing something on plain concrete. Also it’s a historic site with archeological ruins below, so forbidden to dig too deep below.
Now Gehry’s Tower is the centre of the LUMA Foundations operations in Arles, where Hoffmann’s exceptional collection of contemporary art is stored and exhibited, alongside events, performances and research labs, dedicated to environmental design. Inside the circular glass Drum, the formal play with the fractured façade and its material logic reveals itself. Irregular units for different types of activities rise above within the Tower, souring 54 metres through the glass atrium. The metal cubes have been placed in various angles for reflecting the Provence light, creating a warm glow as Gehry had intended. In line with his inspiration of the ‘Van Gogh brush strokes’, it’s intense and expressive. It’s dreamlike – not a traditional building in any sense – it can’t be ignored and its image will not fade away easily.
As the architect who’s name is synonymous with the ’Bilbao effect’, Gehry’s architecture is famous for breaking traditional ideals about buildings. In Arles the LUMA foundation Tower no doubt exemplifies this rebellious approach, which simultaneously aims for dynamic urban renewal through architecture. At The Philadelphia Museum of Art the starting point is very different, although the goal for urban renewal is the same. Instead of deconstructing architecture that honours a glorious past, Gehry’s team reimagined how the neo-classical structure could perform in the future. The ambition to reorganise the landmark building was driven by both cultural and socio-economic goals. ”An investment in Philadelphia, not only for one of the city’s most significant cultural assets, but also for the future of the city. It is vital for our economic recovery”, Leslie Anne Miller, Chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees states in the press release. Architecture is both part of the city’s cultural offerings and a symbol for a better future.
At the Philadelphia Museum, the reorganisation of spaces has brought totally new circulation routes through the building. Parts previously used as offices have been converted into gallery spaces, and a new vertical promenade has been created, spanning the whole building on the ground floor, topped with a vaulted ceiling. In comparison to Gehry’s best known cultural buildings, such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, this museum has its roots firmly in history, now modernised for better energy use and improved visitor experience. Gehry’s team has adopted a different kind of play with materials, it’s more subtle, creating harmony with the idealised past.
As an emerging architect Gehry was influenced by the 1960s LA arts scene and the use of raw, industrial materials, which led to formal explorations with steel. Enabled by digital technology, these bold forms, first imagined as physical models and drawings, became actual buildings, famous for their folds and organic forms. As Gehry has explained, digital technology is a form of craft. The building process between various teams and experts, for example linking directly the stone quarry in charge of providing the material to the digital model, becomes a seamless construction process.
In the Philadelphia museum renovation, the golden-hued Kasota limestone was brought from the same place in Southern Minnesota where the material for the original building had been quarried from. This stone is used throughout the building, creating aesthetic coherence between the past and the present. In the LUMA building, this visual continuity was created with the computer, through an imprint of a local stone, then applied to concrete blocks to evoke the materiality of the near-by historic buildings.