Highlighting the beauty of the Kensington gardens and its connection to the gallery, Daniel Libeskind’s flashy Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (created in 2001), called Eighteen Turns, was created from pure metallic planes reunited in a dynamic sequence. The pavilion was compared to a folded-paper sculpture or an origami game. The American architect’s project was made of angular shapes, dressed in shiny aluminium panels that seemed to turn over themselves and create reflections of the sunlight. It was specially designed so it could be easily folded and removed. The structure revealed a new perspective of the vegetation in the park and the brick building of the gallery; Libeskind reinterpreted its limits. His main intention was to blur these limits, and so he designed the pavilion as an open space. It was then rebuilt in Cork (Ireland) in 2005 when the city was the European Capital of Culture.
Composition and Spatiality
Libeskind’s project rises from the exploration and experimentation with the origami technique; he was highly interested in the processes of folded structures. It was then that the idea of creating a pavilion based on the idea of an aluminium sheet folded multiple times to create a diversity of spaces was born.
Conceived as a single volume, this pavilion was created so that a broad number of different activities could be carried out, such as a coffee place, debates, BBC reunions, reading, gallery and convention centre. At first glance, it could be considered a closed space, but as you walk around it, you can observe the multiple big and small entrances that give it shape.
This space was created to function without the conventional architectural elements, such as windows, doors, or ceilings. Instead, the same shape and its structural principles conceive the mentioned elements in a more free and abstract way, creating the perception that there was not a strict limit between the interior and the exterior of the pavilion, which allows continuity of spaces one flowing into another.
Regarding the planimetry of the pavilion, it can be concluded that the floor plan shows the utilization of basic geometrical forms, from which the whole complexity of the pavilion is conformed. Meanwhile, when observing the sections, the walls and ceilings get mixed together as one object. Finally, the base structure defines the spaces in the interior, and the architect allows the users to discover it by making the decision of letting all the structural elements in sight.
The structure of the building is based on the shape of the enclosure, and the absence of interior walls makes it possible to read the whole pavilion from start to finish. The principal elements are ribbed objects or ribs that conform to a structural arcade system. The aluminium sheets that form the enclosure are rested, and the stiffening plane solves the bracing against horizontal actions.
The inclined structure combines two planes that cross, creating a cascade effect extending the support members and reinforcing them by a zigzag line. This thunder shaped line crosses through the structure, maximizing the inclination effect. The structure then allows the folds possible and the walls to turn and open big or small gaps; this is how the pavilion manages to open towards every side, to generate this desired connection between the park, the gallery and itself.
Libeskind decided to let the structure be seen in the interior to emphasize the folds’ shape and direction. And as he said, “the structure lets us know its function through its shape, therefore becoming a sculpture”.
Libeskind’s main objective was to amplify the beauty of the gardens and the gallery and connect them to his pavilion. He manages this by using aluminium, which due to its properties, reflects light and at the same time creates a big mirror in which the gardens and the gallery are reflected, meeting the architect’s objective.
The selection of the material is due to all its properties, the way it reflects and acts with the light, and how it can be shaped in thousands of different ways, giving the architect the freedom to design. How aluminium allows being easily moulded lets Libeskind fold the material and develop the concept.
The strength of aluminium allows the creation of complex and light structures and, if desired, robust structures as well. Because the material is extremely lightweight, it is possible to construct light and dynamic structures, allowing the prefabrication of the biggest number of pieces possible and then moving them to the site. This makes not only the time of construction in site way lower but also the ability to be handled using light machinery, which allowed the pavilion to be built in just three months.
Aluminium works for both wide surfaces and heavy loads; it is capable of resisting winds up to 200 kilometres per hour. Because of the combination of all these qualities and properties, aluminium is efficient in almost any design and allows the same ideas to be carried out in different spaces.
“Architecture is not based on concrete and steel and the elements of the soil. It’s based on wonder”. This quote by Daniel Libeskind perfectly summarizes the pavilion he designed, in that it is so far from being like any other construction, and it was conceived through experimentation, analysis, and just trying different shapes and forms; it was conceived through “playing”.
Eighteen Turns was a special place for discovering, intimacy and recollection; it offered a temporary place that brought astonishment to the visitors and a radical alternative to what architecture and new techniques can achieve together- ancient arts. All in all, a perfect example of communicative and comprehensive architecture.
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- Libeskind, D. 2001, Daniel Libeskind: the space of encounter, Thames & Hudson, London.
- Libeskind, D., Serrazanetti, F. & Schubert, M. 2015, Daniel Libeskind: inspiration and process in architecture, Moleskine, Milan.