New 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 new 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

Kéré is the first African architect commissioned to design the Pavilion. His architecture is always aware of natural elements – in London it plays with water, while also adding African inspired textures to the landscape of Kensington Gardens. Like a tree, thin steel branches support the roof canopy and allow light fall through. In Gando, Burkina Faso, where Kéré grew up,  the baobab tree provides a place for villagers to gather, to joke, to debate, and offers some well-needed protection from the glaring sun.

Roof details, Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré, photo © Harri Närhi
Roof details, photo © Harri Närhi
Serpentine Pavilion, Francis Kéré, photo ©Harri Närhi
photo ©Harri Närhi

The central feature of the Pavilion is essentially a massive funnel to collect rainwater, irrigating the surrounding park. At any point throughout the Pavilion, one is aware of the surrounding nature, through the myriad little gaps in the structure. What makes Kéré’s Pavilion stand out is exactly how it responds to nature, using fairly common materials to create a final product as innovative as it is pragmatic.

Serpentine Pavilion, Francis Kéré, photo ©Harri Närhi
Kensington Gardens, Serpentine Pavilion, Francis Kéré, photo ©Harri Närhi
Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by Francis Kéré.
Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by Francis Kéré. Serpentine Gallery, © Kéré Architecture, Photography © 2017 Iwan Baan

In Burkina Faso Kéré became known for socially meaningful projects, involving locals in the building works. He was also one of the architects exhibiting at Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy in 2014, where his tunnel design was customised with colourful plastic straws pinned by visitors. At Serpentine Kéré, the maverick storyteller, will connect and collaborate with the public through events and discussions.

Francis Kéré in London at opening of Serpentine Pavilion 2017, photo ©GlenTravis
Francis Kéré in London at the opening of Serpentine Pavilion 2017, photography ©GlenTravis

“You like it?”, Kéré asks as I take a photo of the Pavilion, and continues: “I know the architect,” and gives me a wink before walking away. 

Francis Kéré with Serpentine Pavilion team, photo © Harri Närhi
Francis Kéré with Serpentine Pavilion team, photo © Harri Närhi

Kéré is a leading architect and cultural figure, who no doubt will inspire the next generation of designers with his ecological approach, which pays attention to natural ephemeral materials – how water, light and wind affect and underpin the design concept. The new Pavilion is a place where people can experience his vision in real time.

Woodwork, Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré, photo © Harri Närhi
Woodwork, Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré, photo © Harri Närhi

The spirit of community at the heart of Kéré’s Pavilion is being used to launch a series of events at the Serpentine this summer. ‘Radical Kitchen’, will see various London-based social groups coming together to discuss how food can be used to impact social change – architecture providing a context for meaningful community events.

Serpentine Summer Pavilion: 23 June – 8 October 2017