Serpentine Gallery Architect and Landscaper Converse

frame view photo

Photo: B. Alter
In plein air, the architect Peter Zumthor and the garden designer Piet Oudolf discussed their joint project: the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Each summer for the past eleven years, the Serpentine Gallery commissions a different architect to design a pavilion on the adjacent park lands.

The flowers in the garden were in glorious autumn bloom and the temporary building served as a frame for them. The two men spoke about its conception to a rapt audience in the pavilion.

two men photo

Photo: B. Alter

Peter Zumthorp, the Swiss architect (left above), spoke about the development of the pavilion. He said in the beginning of his career he wasn't interested in landscapes but as he developed it became the most important part of his work. Eventually the object/building disappeared and it was just the landscape that remained.

He saw the pavilion as a frame with the plants in the middle and the sky above. It was a park within a park. The building was merely an instrument to look at the garden; a stage. He likes the pure black of it because it reminded him of abstract expressionism.

He wanted to keep the garden part narrow so that it was intimate. He purposely did not want a circle with a centre. It is about walking around, he wanted people to circulate.

serp garden photo

Photo: B. Alter

Piet Oudolf is the Dutch designer (right above) of the garden. He said that Zumthorp left him free to design whatever he wanted. He was very nervous about the planting. The plants were grown in England because it is an English garden and he was commuting from Holland so couldn't see how they were growing. Because of the growing season he didn't start with mature plants and didn't have the luxury of time for them to get established. The plants had to perform instantly, from July onwards.

Oudolf talked about his development as a designer; he said that he never understood plant design--his way was more spontaneous and copied nature. He had an intuitive instinct about putting things together.

He likes to use wild flowers and different grasses which have become his signature style. The key is that they look wild but they behave well. As he reiterated: being wild and looking wild is very different.

more gard phto

Photo: B. Alter

The garden has matured now, in autumn, and is in full glory. The Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is big and over-blown. Creamy white plumes from bugbane and knotweed wave in the wind. Dark red monarda add a spot of colour. There are gentle purples from the asters and astrantia and deep purple from monkshood. Grasses sway in the breeze.

musi -serpentine photo

Photo: B. Alter

There a was a short concert afterward. Hence the musicians at work: the composer Fritz Hauser (right above) and Peter Zumthor (son of). The music was atonal, played on two drums for the most part, with some delicate suspended cymbals as well. Hypnotic.

table chair photo

Photo: B. Alter

The table and chairs, designed by Peter Zumthor, are for sale in a limited edition. They are light and compact and would be perfect for a small terrace or balcony.

More on Serpentine Gallery and Garden
New Serpentine Pavilion has a Piet Oudolf Garden
A Visit to London's Piet Oudolf Garden
Serpentine Solar Boat To Set Sail

Related Content on