The Serpentine Pavilion

The Serpentine Galleries are an iconic venue for art and architecture enthusiasts. It comprises two galleries bridged by a walkway above the Serpentine Lake at Kensington Gardens, London. The two galleries, Serpentine Gallery and Serpentine Sackler Gallery exhibit varied functions. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery with an extension built by Zaha Hadid Architects was opened for the public in 2013, offering functions of gallery space, restaurant, shop, and social space. Divided into two different themes exhibits a perfect blend of old and new architecture theme.

2016 Serpentine Pavilion by BIG: The unzipped walls - Sheet1
Serpentine Pavilion ©
2016 Serpentine Pavilion by BIG: The unzipped walls - Sheet2
Serpentine Pavilion ©

On the other side of the river, there is the Serpentine Gallery. The most fascinating among the two galleries. Since 2000, each year in summer there has been a pavilion designed by one of the leading architectural firms. Designing and building the pavilion needs to be done within a time frame of 6 months and is open to the public for the next 6 months. Many industry giants have been a part of this, starting in 2000 from Zaha Hadid Architects to the very recently built pavilion by Junya Ishigami in 2019. One such prominent name in the list is Bjarke Ingels. 

Bjarke Ingels and The Serpentine Gallery 2016

Bjarke Ingels, the founder of Bjarke Ingels Group had been commissioned the pavilion design in the year 2016. A Danish Architect who has made it big in the industry (like literally his firm is often regarded as BIG). 

The amount of appreciation and recognition that he has achieved at the age of 46 is quite impressive keeping in mind that his counterparts took 30-40 years of architectural practice to achieve what he did in 10-15 years as a practicing architect.

The Design Process
The design process of the pavilion began with a simple thought of making a structure a blend between transparency and opaqueness, and it has to be modular yet sculptural and free-form yet rigorous. To achieve this feat of mixing two very contrary aspects to build out what will come out as a whole new genre, a lot has to be kept in mind. 

Beginning from the concept to the build quality of the material to be used, all of it had to be severely taken care of. To begin with, a simple wall was taken into consideration and certain modifications were done to give a basic blueprint of how the pavilion design would progress.

2016 Serpentine Pavilion by BIG: The unzipped walls - Sheet3
Serpentine Pavilion ©

A simple wall stretched on different levels to form an undulated wall which seems like a cave from inside served as the concept to the structure. The structure which would look like an opened zip of a jacket would have not attracted the attention of the visitors if not for the function it offered. 

The material selected to complement the design idea was the lay light material, i.e., Fiberglass frames, cuboidal modules open from two sides were used to form the wall of the pavilion. Each module was of the same size which made it easier for mass production. It was the placement of these modules that did the magic. Plus shaped aluminium frames are used to bind these modules together. Big wooden boards served as the purpose of furniture inside the pavilion and acted as a seat for the visitors.

2016 Serpentine Pavilion by BIG: The unzipped walls - Sheet4
Serpentine Pavilion ©

The pavilion was a space made out of voids and due to the curvilinear arrangements of the fiberglass modules, each point offered a different sense of view within the pavilion. The structure as a whole offered a trigger in joyful emotions inside the premise. 

The sense of connectivity was enriched as people can sit over there and enjoy the architecture in the built form and also the curves going up to form a part of a single line exhibits the traits of a mountain. It served as a seating space outwards too, indulging a sense of connectivity. 

The building also plays with transparency, as when the frame of reference is on the same line as the wall’s convergent line itself, the pavilion looks like a total opaque structure but as the frame of reference starts going oblique to the wall, the transparency increases and becomes a near-transparent structure when at 90 degrees at rotation with the wall.

Serpentine Pavilion ©
Serpentine Pavilion ©
Serpentine Pavilion ©

The Impression of the Pavilion

Bjarke Ingels, who wanted to become a cartoonist but was admitted into architecture school because of the family’s suggestion is now a very big name in the architecture fraternity. The Serpentine Pavilion 2016 is one of the several architectural masterpieces that he has built over the years. 

The structure is a fine blend of transparency and opaqueness. It has a nice play of visual tension while entering inside the premise of the gallery and certainly offers a sense of openness which is quite a rare achievement in today’s world of exclusivity. The pavilion had a lot to offer to all age groups. To the children, it was their open space where they can play and to the old, it was the long-lost sense of opening the pavilion into nature while keeping a sense of exclusivity from the near surrounding.


Naveen is a student of architecture who is exploring his way out to the world of architecture and art. A full-time learner, part-time reader, and an occasional writer.