Well, it looks like Mustafa beat me to it when it came to blogging about the Serpentine Pavilion. But what the hey, you can never have too much Gehry, right? *cough cough*
I too had left it far too long before making the journey to Hyde Park to see it. I've been holding off on reading about it for that very reason - I like to see how my own instincts are first. Not in terms of how closely I align to the general consensus, but just because I find it easier to form honest opinions when I don't have the schizophrenia of past architectural critiques ringing in my ears.
It seems that not everyone has the same attitude. I felt at times like I had stepped into a Gehry-masturbation/crucifixion arena - the non-architects cooing about how it's unlike anything that has ever been done before while pouring over the big-man's words in the accompanying leaflet; the architects generally turning up their noses and quoting scornful words from a legion of critics. At one point, I'm convinced each camp had subconsciously split and were sat on either side, facing each other with a mix of confusion and alienation that I haven't seen since my first school disco. Maybe I came at a bad time.
Now, for me the split in opinion was not really between architect and non-architect, but of those who could appreciate the pavilion for what it was, and those who couldn't quite separate it from the context of Gehry's other works. It's cool to hate Gehry. But occasionally we have to distinguish between a single building and a career arc. There is no shortage of people who can do this - they just all decided to be elsewhere today.
Now my own impression of it was mixed. On the scale of the project itself - i.e. excluding all architectural bs - I loved it. Maybe the sun was just right, maybe the summers evening and the long cycle past the boat lake made me a little more full of endorphins, but it just really seemed to work as a pavilion. The way the roof is split up to still give complete coverage from the skies but still feel open gave the perfect balance between enclosed protection and being open to the elements that you want from a pavilion. I think this 'pavilion' feeling had been overlooked somewhat in previous years.
The scale of the thing works. The large timber clad beams/columns give a nice background of strength to the more delicate roof elements, ridding them of any reading of structural obligation and making them feel quite playful:
I was amazed at how clean the whole thing looked, given how chaotic the structure was meant to be. In fact, that was one of the strange contradictions for me. In the project blurb leaflet, Gehry is quoted as saying:
"Life is temporal. There's too much preening and fussing over fancy details, about an idea of perfection. It's all phoney. We are temporary and so are our structures."
And yet some details are rushed while other - more fundamental - design decisions have taken the long way round for a fussy end.
Here is the end of the seating area. Shown as if it's stacked beams of timber, giving that whole temporary timber-yard feel to the base:
But, get a little closer and the illusion is shattered. It's just slices of timber attached to a plywood sheet:
And here you can see how all the visual fussiness (cables, connections etc) has been hidden on the top side of the roof frame. Clearly quite well thought out:
And another - here the scrappy detailing of steel connectors going through the timber cladding:
Now, my concern with this is simple: to frame your project as a celebration of the temporary is to give a conceptual foundation to the design. I get that. I can see how that makes things like the last picture interesting. Poor details can reflect the circumstances in which the project came to be. It's appropriate, it's honest. But to then go on to fuss over details such as the wiring being hidden from view, or the seating looking liked stacked timber without actually being stacked timber seems to suggest a compromise on the whole 'no phoney' ideology.
Thinking about it, I reckon most buildings that I really like are ones that are uncompromising and yet still work. Rodger's Lloyd's building is a good example (I was there yesterday so it's on my mind). No phoney architecture there, but the standpoint of expressing services and clearing the floor plate is embraced, realised without compromise and works. That takes a lot of effort and design.
From an architectural viewpoint that was my disappointment with the pavilion: it's a temporary structure that seeks to celebrate honesty and non-fussiness, goes on to still be fussy and phoney in places, and then allows poor detailing to highlight the hypocrisy. I guess if you hype a project up to be non-phoney and then you are, the quick detailing that you initially relied on will show up your sanctimony.
Well, after that rant, one other thing I noticed (apart from the similarity to his house in the 70s which I think now has been well covered), was this:
One big pile of timber and only one fire extinguisher!