Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron Get Archaeological for Their Serpentine Pavilion

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012, designed by Herzog & de Meuron & Ai Weiwei
(© 2012, by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei)

Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron have revealed their plans for the 12th  Serpentine Pavilion, to be unveiled on June 1st, as part of the London 2012 Festival. For their first collaboration in the UK, the team behind the iconic nest-shaped Beijing National Stadium — built for the 2008 Olympic Games — has resisted the temptation to erect a landmark structure. Instead they have conceived a construction mainly located underground and incorporating the history of the 11 pavilions built on the Serpentine Gallery's lawns since Zaha Hadid's inaugural commission in 2000.

Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's pavilion will involve a pond supported by 12 pillars (one for each commission), disclosing the previous pavilions' foundations and remains. From above, it will look like a manhole cover of water slightly pushed aside as if to allow a peak at what lies underneath.

"As we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations," stated the architects. "Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. Their shape varies: circular, long and narrow, dots and also large, constructed hollows that have been filled in ... These remains testify to the existence of the former Pavilions and their greater or lesser intervention in the natural environment of the park."

"All of these foundations will now be uncovered and reconstructed," they continued. "The old foundations form a jumble of convoluted lines, like a sewing pattern. A distinctive landscape emerges out of the reconstructed foundations which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift. The three-dimensional reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed."

The entire interior of Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's pavilion is to be clad in cork, a natural and versatile material often used for architectural models — which will enhance the experimental and temporary nature of the commission. As it has done every year since 2006, the structure will host the Serpentine Gallery's series of public events "Park Nights," which will culminate with Hans Ulrich Obrist's "Memory Marathon."

Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's pavilion has already been acquired for an undisclosed amount by Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian steel tycoon who also provided £16 million towards the construction of the Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond-designed ArcelorMittal Orbit Olympic tower to be inaugurated later this week.