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Monday, July 28, 2008

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008 in London, England by Frank Gehry

Photographs are copyright 0lll-Architecture Gallery.
The Architecture of Frank Gehry looms on the horizon like a huge boulder in an otherwise carefully cultivated landscape. - Kurt W. Foster
This quote from the introduction to a 1998 monograph on the world's most famous living architect seems apt for his latest executed work -- his first in England -- this year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Located near Serpentine Lake -- from which the contemporary art gallery takes its name -- in London's Kensington Gardens, the chaotic-looking wood, steel and glass pavilion stands out from its formal, manicured surroundings, as well as the 1934 tea pavilion that the Gallery calls home.

At first glance this ninth of the Gallery's pavilions recalls early Gehry, a phase marked by the use of inexpensive materials (chain link fencing, standard-sized lumber, corrugated metal) in uninteded ways, such as his deconstructed, two-story bungalow in Santa Monica. There a hybrid window/skylight exploded from the new kitchen space, and the aforementioned chain link and corrugated metal wrapped the entirety, to the effect that original bungalow became hidden under layers of experimentation. But first glances usually don't hold true, as is the case in the architect's latest.

The main indication that things aren't what they seem is how the "spectacular structure -- designed and engineered in collaboration with Arup -- is anchored by four massive steel columns." What looks like four large timber columns are actually wood wrapping steel. This apparent dishonesty anchors the project in Gehry's recent work, where models are transformed into buildings via complex and often hidden structure. Materials are not utilized in and of themselves for design exerimention, but as wrappers for formal maneuvers. The fact that the pavilion appears to be all structure fools one into thinking it actually is.

Another indication that things aren't what they seem occurs when one takes a close look at the space. The apparent chaos of the design becomes much more subdued when one realizes Gehry has admittedly created "an urban street running from the park to the existing Gallery." A linear space is bordered by stepped platforms (for people watching, I presume), all covered by a fragmented glass canopy. This last piece is hung from the four large columns and the requisite connecting beams. Like many second- or third-phase Gehry designs, the pavilion takes a simple diagram and torques it into something different. The will of the artist, if you will. Ultimately the pavilion is about expressing Gehry. It is a summation of what he's already produced, as much, if not more, than it is a new production.

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