This year’s Serpentine Pavilion has been designed by renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. It is conceived as an enclosed garden that Zumthor hopes will inspire visitors to become observers of nature. The single-storey, lightweight timber-frame structure is wrapped with scrim and coated with a black Idenden. The garden itself is further separated from the outside world by staggered entrances set into a narrow, outer vestibule. Once inside, a broad central strip is filled with rare species of plants and flowers, all of which contrast sharply with the rigid geometries and sombre tone of the pavilion itself.

Zumthor set out to create a contemplative space which offers a sensory, spiritual experience that creates intimacy with nature. Severed from the noise and views of London and shrouded in its sepulchral black skin, the pavilion certainly evokes an atmospheric sense of enclosure and immerses the visitor in the vibrant smells and colours of nature.

But seeing as the core aim of the pavilion is to observe nature, it seems odd that it adopts such extreme measures to disengage itself from its parkland surroundings. Even within the historic typology of a walled garden, (which naturally promotes the concept of separation) the oppressive form of the architecture makes as much of an impact as the garden itself. There is no subtlety here, merely the didactic realisation of a concept.

The lasting impression Zumthor’s pavilion leaves therefore is not one of nature but of irony. Like Stanley Kubrick’s seminal black monolith surrounded by a pack of braying apes at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it constructs a poetically absurd physical juxtaposition in order to imply a more civilised human existence.


The Serpentine Gallery will be open to the public from 1st July to 16th October