Oops! Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's Serpentine Pavilion Plans Are Built on False Foundations

Oops! Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron's Serpentine Pavilion Plans Are Built on False Foundations
A rendering of the Serpentine Pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei
(Courtesy Serpentine Gallery)

"Ai Weiwei’s practice ain’t called FAKE Design for nothing," quipped architecture critic Oliver Wainwright this morning via Twitter.

The February announcement that the Chinese artist and the storied architecture duo Herzog & de Meuron (previously collaborators on Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium) were going to create the Serpentine Pavilion attracted a lot of attention, not least because this dream team promised something that was a little weirder than the usual architectural folly. Two days ago, a fresh set of renderings and optimistic commentary further promised that this year’s temporary display would be a genuine tribute to the Kensington Gardens site. In a distinctly meta move, Ai and his Swiss collaboratores promised to create an archeological tribute to the entire concept of Serpentine Pavilions, unearthing and incorporating the foundations of pavilions past into their design, and sending visitors tripping back in time.

"The old foundations form a jumble of convoluted lines, like a sewing pattern," the architects explained in a statement. "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."

Just one problem: Those foundations do not actually exist. The promised serendipitous gift was nowhere to be found this week when the great excavation began. Amid the excitement of the early design process, someone failed to mention that all the anticipated remnants of previous pavilions — designed by the likes of Rem Koolhaas, Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid, and SANAA — had been totally removed from the Royal Park. All that was left of the "distinctive landscape" was the standard medley of soil and gravel.

Nevertheless, Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron remain resolute. The team on the job now has a new task, to overlay the old plans of the past 11 pavilions and "find a new shape," reports BD Online. So for those of you eager to explore the pavilion’s cork-clad interior and dance upon its elevated platform roof, rest assured that the show will go on.

A version of this article originally appeared in Object Lessons, an ARTINFO blog on architecture and design.