Category: Blog

Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus

New Serpentine Summer Pavilion by Frida Escobedo

Danica O. Kus has photographed Serpentine Summer Pavilions since 2009. The latest by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is the tenth that she has documented. The architectural quality of each temporal Pavilion and their unique characteristics has been an enduring inspiration for her photographic work.

Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
photo: ©Danica O. Kus

An exhibition showcasing her photographs of the ten Pavilions will be open during the London Festival of Architecture at the Slovenian Embassy in London. For architectural photographers the opening of the Serpentine Summer Pavilion in June is one of the highlights of the year. I asked Danica about the very special nature of the Serpentine series and its meaning for her.


Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
photo: ©Danica O. Kus

How would you describe the new pavilion by Frida Escobedo in relation to previous ones? 

The new pavilion seems quite modest at the first sight. But when you enter the space and you feel the atmosphere everything changes…the reflecting light from the roof, the play of light and shadows, the breeze which comes through the rough tiles, the reflection of the trees and tiles in the pool…it is very poetic pavilion and delightful to photograph. I like the idea that this pavilion is made of inexpensive materials and beautifully designed to each detail. Also it combines a Mexican tradition of making breeze walls and English mass-produced tiles.

It is very poetic pavilion and delightful to photograph – I like the idea that this pavilion is made of inexpensive materials

Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
photo: ©Danica O. Kus
Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
photo: ©Danica O. Kus

What are the elements you observe first in buildings?

When I come to a new space I first observe the atmosphere, the light and shadows, the sky, the structure, reflections…. Inside I try to feel the atmosphere, the smell, the temperature, the sound, the light…if the space is comfortable it’s easy to start with photography …if not I have to find a way and be creative…which is also good…

Can you describe the first summer pavilion that you shot and how did it go? 

I shot the first summer pavilion in 2009. It was designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the Japanese architectural practice SANAA. It was an absolute pleasure to photograph: the reflective metal structure standing on tiny columns and reflecting the park surroundings. I remember that it was difficult to stop photographing and leaving the space, because the aluminum structure was changing in relation to the time of the day and weather conditions…

Has there been any pavilion that was more difficult to photograph and why?

Each pavilion is so unique and inspiring…I think it’s a wonderful experience for each photographer. I can’t say which one I prefer or which one was more difficult to photograph. Each time I’m surprised by their uniqueness and high aesthetics so I’m always very motivated and drowned to the subject in order to present it in its best form. The creative aspect of each pavilion gives also additional pleasure. It’s also a pleasure for visitors to take photos and be creative…

Whose work has been an inspiration for you in your career as photographer?

I have been inspired by the great photographers like Andre Kertesz, Edward Steichen, Ezra Stoller, Julius Shulman and many contemporary photographers. I like their work because of their originality, new vision, composition, timelessness…

Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
Photo: ©Danica O. Kus
Serpentine Pavilion 2018, photo: ©Danica O. Kus
photo: ©Danica O. Kus

Serpentine Pavilions 2009 – 2017

Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia London

17 Dartmouth Street London United Kingdom SW1H 9BL



Venice Biennale – Giardini Pavilions

How is the idea of ‘Freespace’ interpreted in the national exhibitions of the Giardini

British Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo © Marianna Wahlsten
Rooftop terrace built on top of the British Pavilion with views over the lagoon, photo ©MariannaWahlsten

Curated by Dublin-based architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the 2018 Architecture Biennale offers a broad view into the complexities of contemporary environments. With emphasis on details instead of the grand concepts of the previous Biennales, it’s a fresh look onto the multiple layers of meaning in architecture. 

The proposed theme ’Freespace’ leaves plenty of space for interpretation. Responses in the national pavilions were ecological, futuristic, social, poetic and conceptual, reflecting on the idea of architecture as a language within society. Farrell and McNamara seem to challenge architecture as purely technical or political, but instead looking at the complex systems where both the smallest details and the long history need to be understood simultaneously in order to make great environments.

British Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo: ©MariannaWahlsten
Titled ‘Island’ the British Pavilion was left empty inside, with an exterior scaffolding leading up to a temporary roof terrace, photo: ©MariannaWahlsten

What is a great city in the future? How can we make sustainable environments? How can architecture generate wellbeing to individuals and the planet? Social spaces and infrastructure were explored in several exhibitions, some with historical outlooks and others with futuristic proposals. Some offered intensely researched, multilayered shows such as the US Pavilion on ecology and individual responsibility, while the UK Pavilion was  more restrained, and rather bleak, but poetic – created by the leading contemporary architects Caruso St John in collaboration with conceptual artist Marcus Taylor. Both countries responded to their own political crisis in very different ways. UK was awarded a special mention by the jury.

Nordic Pavilion titled 'Another Generosity' Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, photo ©MariannaWahlsten
Nordic Pavilion titled ‘Another Generosity’ showcased experimental models for interacting with natural resources, photo ©MariannaWahlsten

The ’free gifts’ provided by nature (as also suggested in the overall curatorial proposal) is an elusive topic in the Nordic Pavilion, presented in a rather mysterious manner by young architect Eero Lunden, and nicely taking over the Sverre Fehn designed space. Ecology is equally beautifully evoked at the Australian Pavilion, where it was a collaboration between artist Linda Tegg and Baracco+Wright Architects.

Australian Pavilion titled 'Repair', Venice Biennale 2018, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten
Australian Pavilion titled ‘Repair’ was home to rare plants, while showing films on projects nurturing the built environment, photo: ©Marianna Wahlsten
Swiss Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2018, photo: ©Marianna Wahlsten
Swiss Pavilion titled ‘House Tour’ showing alienating domestic interiors, photo © Marianna Wahlsten

Materiality and the presentation of architecture was a topic explored by the Swiss team, which was awarded the Best Pavilion Golden Lion. It’s a fun environment, showcasing the neutral minimalism of the domestic space, the utmost functionality as opposed to the poetic, unexpected and crafted environments imagined as ideal spaces. It was also the total opposite of the tense programs that could be found at the Korean Pavilion, the Spanish Pavilion (experimental and performative) and the French Pavilion. The Pavilions with plain statements won over the jury this year.

French Pavilion titled 'Infinite Spaces' , Venice Biennale 2018, photo © Marianna Wahlsten
French Pavilion titled ‘Infinite Spaces’ focusing on the unexpected in built environments by team Encore Heureux, photo ©MariannaWahlsten
Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo © Danica O. Kus

Torre – Fondazione Prada’s Milan venue now complete

Designed by Rem Koolhaas and his team at OMA, the new tower in white concrete offers an architectural experience of transitions and variations within its 60 meters high structure. Photos by Danica O. Kus

Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo © Danica O. Kus
The new tower with the cinema building, also a new construction, on the left and historic structures housing the Fondazione on the right, photo ©Danica O. Kus

Divided into nine floors, each one developing some kind of special vista into the surrounding landscape, the building has a clear purpose to provide a smooth variety of themes within its gallery spaces occupying all together six floors.

Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo © Danica O. Kus
With panoramic lift on the side, facing the gold-leaf covered historic tower, photo ©Danica O. Kus

Starting from an average of 2,7 meters on the ground floor, the room height increases towards the top with a spectacular 8 meters on the top floor gallery. The play with light is allowed by a range of alternating wide openings on the façade and intensified with boldly reflecting interior surfaces. The levels can also be reached on the panoramic lift, integrated to the southern side of the building. As Koolhaas explains these subtle variations bring diversity to the simple volume in order to break the monotony of the generic gallery context.

Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo © Danica O. Kus
Reflective surfaces at the entrance to the Torre, photo © Danica O. Kus
Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo ©Danica O. Kus
Raw pink concrete tones on the staircase, which Koolhaas describes as a key element bringing everything together in the building, photo © Danica O. Kus

On six levels, the gallery spaces are hosting a selection of works from the Prada collection, curated by Germano Celant. Key works from the 1960s and 1970s, by artists including Carla Accardi, Pino Pascali and William N. Copley, together with more recent works by Goshka Macuga, Jeff Koons, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst and Carsten Höller, have been chosen to form a dialogue from the core of the vast Prada collection. Titled ’Atlas’ the exhibition could be seen as mapping of ideas and aesthetic influences for Prada.

Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo ©Danica O. Kus
Eight floor gallery with Damien Hirst’s installation ‘Waiting for Inspiration’ (1994), photo © Danica O. Kus
Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo © Danica O. Kus
Restaurant with furniture designed in 1958 by Philip Johnson, photo © Danica O. Kus

On the sixth floor restaurant ’Torre’ has been furnished with original pieces from the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, designed by Philip Jonson in 1958. Also Carsten Höller’s pieces designed for the The Double Club installation have found a new home here. You will witness more art from the collection in the restaurant including sculptures by Lucio Fontana, paintings by William N. Copley, and a special display of artists’ plates created by contemporary artists including Thomas Demand, Mariko Mori and Tobias Rehberger.

Fondazione Prada Torre, Photo ©Danica O. Kus
The box-like façade has been broken with a cut corner line, photo © Danica O. Kus

The building is topped with terrace, where the black and white floor has been designed as an optical play with the surrounding cityscape and the panoramic view of Milan. Torre marks the completion of the Fondazione Prada’s great undertaking of transforming an old distillery into a contemporary cultural campus. While complementing the old structures, this last addition brings together historical forms and contemporary layers, as part of a long collaboration between Prada and Rem Koolhaas, showing the subtle art of preservation.

Zhang Ke, hutong

Zhang Ke – beauty in béton brut

A small concrete building, stained black and sculpted into a cosy looking sculptural form, was one of the Arsenale highlights for me at Venice Biennale 2016. The elemental yet subtle use of materials in this building by Chinese architect Zhang Ke seemed to derive from the concrete spaces imagined by Le Corbusier, and on some level from brutalism in the raw handling of the material.

Zhang Ke, Micro Yuan'er
Children’s library and arts centre Micro Yuan’er

Zhang Ke is making work that’s hugely significant now. He has just received the Alvar Aalto Medal, which has been previously given to leading architects such as Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza and Steven Holl. The award is given to architects who’s work is seen as a continuation of Aalto’s legacy. “Aalto has inspired me for decades already, since I was a student. Two days ago I was again in the Aalto Studio and the House , and I still discover new things. The magic with Aalto’s work is that first you don’t see anything surprising, but the more you look at it, you can discover many small things,” Zhang Ke says.” His House is put together with a lot of inventions, but they are discreet. So I would say ‘discreet innovation’ – that’s why Aalto is becoming increasingly known around the world.”

ZhangKe, Alvar Aalto Medal 2017
Zhang Ke at The Finnish Museum of Architecture at the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the 50 th anniversary of the Alvar Aalto Medal

When Zhang Ke rose to the podium at Aalto’s Finlandia Hall to receive the medal, he first pointed out not being as young as he looks. Born in 1970, he studied in China and later at Harvard and had visited the Aalto Studio and House as a student already previously. He is one of the young generation, with an international outlook, but a great sensitivity towards materials and natural forms.

The small children’s library in rough concrete showcased at Venice, designed without any of the usual ‘fun-and-friendly’ semiotics, felt like the cosiest place to spend time in. It looked inviting and elegant, like a minimalist hut for thinking and reading. Another building project, a cultural centre in Tibet, has been crafted from stone quarried nearby. Using traditional stone building methods, the architecture feels sculpted into its surroundings, nestling on the riverside.

Niyang River Visitor Center, China
Zhang Ke, Niyang River Visitor Center
Niyang River Visitor Center

At the opening of the exhibition, which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Alvar Aalto Medal, I got a chance to ask Zhang Ke about the use of materials in his buildings. “I’m very interested in materials of the place. Materials carry a lot of information about a place,” he said, “Also a material that ages in the place, creates a connection to the place and to human beings. The craftsmanship that embodies the knowledge of the people, who know how to do it, carries on the culture.” He sees great value in traditions: “You can use this in a surprising way. So in a way it’s extremely traditional, but at same time we know that it’s not.”

Zhang Ke architecture
Zhang Ke, a new layer to to the city fabric, the hutong transformed

Zhang Ke’s buildings sit neatly in the landscape. Or in packed urban environments squashed into the heart of the old city fabric, as in the contemporary hutong extension, where again Zhang Ke moulded sculpted forms out of concrete. “Usually people think new materials represent something new for architecture. I don’t think so. Or it depends… It can be the most humble material that carries the contemporary sense.” Zhang Ke says.

The way in which Zhang Ke uses humble materials is hugely inspiring. Creating something extraordinary from dark stained rough concrete for children, shows how a careful play with material and form can bring beauty into the world. “I don’t think of material as a statement, but something that connects the emotional aspect of people, of the visitor and the people who live there with the place.” he says.

On the meaning of place and local culture Zhang Ke says: “We can always go deeper. Maybe in Finland people are experts in silence, and maybe in China people are experts in the inward space, there are lots of layers in the inside world.”


ARoS – panoramic views over Aarhus

The power of architecture is embedded in the DNA of Aarhus. Historic buildings are well looked after and new additions are celebrations for new possibilities.

Witnessing the city from the top of ARoS Art Museum inside Your Rainbow Panorama, designed by Olafur Eliasson, you will sense that aesthetic experimentation is conducted in Aarhus with great skill and ambition. Now the museum will also expand under the ground. A €40 million plan was revealed in 2015, where the original museum’s architects Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen are collaborating with American artist James Turrell to create a 1200m2 subterranean gallery – playing with colour and light will continue underground. Director Erlend Høyersten has been the driving force and visionary behind this grand cultural scheme.

Your Rainbow Panorama by Olafur Eliasson, ARoS Museum
Your Rainbow Panorama by Olafur Eliasson, ARoS Museum
James Turrell at Aros Museum, photo ©Morten Fauerby
James Turrell at Aros Museum,
photo ©Morten Fauerby

The city’s creative flair is linked to Aarhus architecture school, which is one the highly esteemed ones in Europe. Stephen Willacy, a Brit who used to teach there and now works as Chief Architect for the city, says there is a special approach with great attention to detail in the Danish way of thinking and working. We walked around his office, the Arne Jacobsen designed town hall with beautiful interiors crafted by Hans Wegner, who started his career working for Jacobsen. In the main hall, which now hosts weekly events and exhibitions, I found rows of tables, each one showcasing a small installation by a local designer – so simple and elegant.

Aarhus City Hall, designed by Arne Jacobsen
Aarhus City Hall, designed by Arne Jacobsen

Over the summer the seafront has been transformed with art installations. There is the massive balloon-like bar canopy by Bjarke Ingels, and an absurdist fountain by Pulkkinen & Rautiainen, consisting of a crane, a car and a screen grab from Google Earth. The industrial harbour buildings have been converted to galleries, where you’ll find works by both emerging artists alongside superstars, such as Doug Aitken, whose ‘anger room’ has proved a hit. All these works are part of the ARoS Triennial exhibition ‘Garden’, which is one of the main events of the European Capital of Culture program. Inside the museum, the show extends to more traditional approaches around the same theme.

Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larsen
Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larsen

A short drive outside the city, surrounded by meadows and fields, you’ll find the stunning Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larssen Architects, which opened in 2014. Following its sloping site, the building’s grass-topped ceiling provides another level for admiring the countryside, while the museum spaces are carved into the hill below. Another example of Danish design, where you can see the foundation of brave and clear thought. Inside there is another highlight of this year’s art programme, a cinematic installation titled The Journey, directed by Christoffer Boe.

Den Gamle By
Den Gamle By

Aarhus is easy to explore, a compact city with plenty of cultural events this year and a strong architectural legacy. In contrast to the cutting edge art, architecture and design, Den Gamle By is a step into the past, an entire neighbourhood and open air museum dedicated to Danish architectural history of past centuries – yet another well-designed and executed site to explore.





Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré

Serpentine Pavilion 2017 , designed by Francis Kéré, photo: ©IwanBaan
Serpentine Pavilion 2017 , designed by Francis Kéré, photo: ©IwanBaan

Architectural highlight of the summer – the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in London

By Harri Närhi and Marianna Wahlsten

The Serpentine Pavilion marks one of the most anticipated events in the architectural calendar. Designed this year by Berlin-based Francis Kéré, the Pavilion is an open structure, beautifully crafted out of wood and steel into ornamental patterns.

Video clip from press launch, © Glen Travis

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