Each summer for the past twelve years, London's Serpentine Gallery commissions a different architect to design a pavilion on the adjacent park lands. It serves as an inspirational place to hang out, hear lectures and have a drink.Ai Weiwei along with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.
It is a serene and surprisingly intimate temporary building. A disc shaped pond hovers over the ground. Twelve columns support the roof 1.4 metres above the earth. Underneath is a cork lined "den" with different levels of cork stools. So simple and so affective.
Since the artist is forbidden to leave China, the construction has been anything but simple. The artist has been working with his partners Herzog & de Meuron via Skype, with sketches and models held up for cameras and computers to discuss and decide. Apparently he didn't mind doing it this way; "Using Skype is lovely. I think all projects should be done with Skype. You only have to communicate the spiritual part".
The cork-lined underground was intended to be an archaeological excavation, with the lines and angles reminiscent of former pavilions.
The dark brown compressed cork looks and feels very soft and welcoming; it even has a nice organic cork smell.
The disc, filled with water, will be a mirror for the sky, and a haven for birds.
The theme is about the idea of memory. The disc sits on 12 columns in recognition of the ruins of the 11 past ones, plus this one. The excavation was supposed to expose the foundations of previous pavilions, however it turned out that there were none. It was sponsored by Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and his family will relocate it after the exhibition closes.
The artist could not attend the opening of the pavilion. With only 20 days left on his one year travel ban, he was denied permission to leave China.