The haphazardly arranged tiers and pathways of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion offer a shady area to sit on a hot afternoon in London. Children looking for adventure charge through cork-lined gangways and leap over steps. Adults drink, read, talk and sleep – as adults do. The pavilion mutually lends itself to all of these arrangements.
The layout is not completely haphazard, it has been designed in response to the foundations of previous pavilions. And the most intriguing part of the plan is not deference to these structures, but the idea that a usable space can be arranged to the chance of historic precedence. Instead, a perfectly ergonomic building might have been honed for people to relax and play with these functional uses fastened sturdily to the concept, and how orthodox and dull it might have been.
de Meuron, Ai Weiwei and Herzog’s modest pavilion claims that we are capable of adapting to any form that is presented to us. It is better this way. It encourages us to explore; to create our own personal mental maps, way stations and games. It is a demonstration that architecture does not always need to precisely fit its function. Great – now let’s do the same thing with a new school building.