Discworld: Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's Serpentine Pavilion 2012

By Kirstie Brewer | 12 June 2012
A photo of an image of a huge disc outside a magnificent lawn art gallery at dusk
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei
Installation: Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012, Serpentine Pavilion, London, until October 14 2012

For Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, Olympic spirit is less about the event itself; the draw is in its ability to be a catalyst for urban innovation.

Ahead of the London 2012 Games, the duo has been reunited with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to create the new Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

In this befitting collaboration, the design team responsible for the emblematic Bird’s Nest (the centrepiece for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) have taken an archaeological approach, revealing and reconstructing traces of the 11 temporary creations which went before.  
The new pavilion is an earthy cork-clad structure, half buried beneath the Serpentine’s lawn with a disc filled with water suspended a few feet above the grass, as if floating. It reflects the London skies.   
Ai Weiwei, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, is under house arrest in Beijing and is unlikely to see the commission before it is dismantled in October.
Though unable to make the June inauguration, speaking from China via video link he said: “For this Serpentine Pavilion we tried to study what happened before and we also asked ourselves why we need to make a new design for this event.
“We focused on memory and the past. We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning.”
For the past 12 years, the Serpentine Gallery has annually commissioned an internationally renowned designer who hasn’t worked in the UK before to design a new pavilion. Inevitably, like the Olympic games, this brings fervent anticipation and an element of competition and prestige, as each offering is contrasting and critiqued.
It is as if the design team have chosen to remove themselves from this or transcend it, instead creating a palimpsest of history; a presence out of an absence – indeed, like the physical absence of Weiwei, whose artistic input was communicated with Herzog & de Meuron via Skype throughout the six months the project took to complete.   
On the foundations of each single Pavilion, a new structure extrudes, with 11 load-bearing supports in total. It is only the artists’ own, additional column which can be placed at will – “like a wild card”, according to the trio.
“A distinctive landscape emerges which is unlike anything we could have invented,” they add.

“Its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift.”
Visitors to the public space will likely think about The Bird’s Nest in China, which has become a meeting place, a public forum for expression and a creative outlet in a nation where this is taboo at best and punished at worst.      
Ai Weiwei has in the past likened his relationship with Herzog & de Meuron to “three soldiers going into battle”, speaking in unison with one voice.

Through this new installation, a poignant connection has been made between London and Beijing; one which perhaps runs deeper than just Olympic legacy.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free.

More pictures:

An image of dozens of mushroom-shaped carved stones on concrete slabs
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. Image: Luke Hayes
An image of people walking around a large silver disc in an urban park during the day
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. Image: John Offenbach
An image of an elegant art gallery under blue lights inside a park space at dusk
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. Image: Iwan Baan
An image of a large group of people sitting under a disc in an urban park during the day
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. Image: Iwan Baan
An image of people walking under a large disc sculpture in an urban park during the day
© Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. Image: Luke Hayes
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