Bartlett (Chris)

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    Another Serpentine Pavillion Entry...

    Chris Hildrey
    Sep 21, '08 8:02 PM EST

    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.

    An example:

    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!


    • Interesting contradiction you point out between the level of thought/detailing on some aspects of the project vs others....

      One wonders whether the point was to make a temporary structure seem less temporary or more so? And if the latter than as you have pointed out why all the fuss? And if only for aesthetic reasons than definitely two contradictory thrusts...

      Sep 21, 08 8:30 pm
      chatter of clouds

      the pictures look nicer taken during the 'magic hours'. and you do take nice lively pictures. though i thought no. 5 would have been better off as a square pic.

      perhaps its not honesty that is connoted by gehry's 'honesty' but rather a laissez faire attitude towards building that reflects an easy laid-back all american pop television-watching ethics supremely suspicious of 'inter-lectualization'. you know, an 'american' honesty and not a eurocentric one. so you can see the fakeness up what? we already know americans have managed to suspend disbelief like no other nation and they do it efficiently. why bother stack lumber for a teeny tiny impression when you could surface skim its expected profile. yes you can see its fake, but we (as a global species americans who are not national americans oand who might have never been to america) are so ready to buy into the picturesque of the illustrating imagination, the machined signification, that its perfectly ok if we see the light bounce off the strings on the puppets. still you managed to enjoy the space...wouldnt that have been the point? your discontent with detail, standing as an obstace to your full enjoyment of this thing, is therefore a learned eurocentric old world rhetorical dogma (whether you are european or not is irrelevant) of tectonic essentialism clealy seperate from the . maybe for gehry is takes 300mm (??) depth of truth to BE truth. and after all, it is, honestly, just a an age where a pavillion (and perhaps this implicates architecture at large) is only a transient expression of variety rather than a manifestation of an ideal (be it arts & crafts, modernist...)

      Sep 22, 08 4:18 am
      chatter of clouds

      ...clealy seperate from the spatial experience

      Sep 22, 08 4:20 am

      see, this is why i love the student blogs. people actually say smart things.

      nice blogumenting, and equally nice rebuttal.

      i LOVE that the timber is glued on. perfect.

      structural honesty was big in my school, so maybe that is why i am happy to see it trounced so blatantly - a sort of oedipal thing. but it is also true that gehry is spouting a bit of bullshit equal to the bs he appears to be sick of...architectural training is apparently hard to overcome sometimes, even for a man like frank.

      Sep 22, 08 5:06 am
      chatter of clouds

      silly me, 30mm of depth (or is it only 15mm, am outta scale) . and IT takes. but still uneDITed. too many influences.

      Sep 22, 08 5:22 am

      How can you be disapointed ; working with wood is a science in itself and going from misunderstood structural thinking that only leave a lookalike surface, to heavy timbers put together without thought of tradision -- without knowleage of material -- must yield a number of both good and bad reflections.
      Why wasn't advances structures and computer generated lattrices not good enough -- was it becaurse the deep understanding of recursive structure planning stayed at the surface, that when we seen the display , but only the surface of structures surface the messeage was over -- as a to fast grapping and looking for new visions -- then when playtime is over, where do this profit architecture ?
      Going strait from what shuld be new way's , back to luxury waste demanding high skilled carpentry --- why now that direction, did the revolution in structural thinking become to advanced ?

      Sep 22, 08 8:47 am

      my impression of the pavilion at my first visit at around noon was different to yours since the space seemed static compared to the relatively exciting moments it created at around sunset,and although we all visit the pavilion knowing its a temporary structure the large stairs on either sides of the structure and the change in ground materiality before you enter the space makes it feel in a way sort of kitsch and erases any sense of temporality especially when gehry states inspiration from site when designing the pavilion, i think in no way has he achieved that connection.
      good catch with the timber though.. other spaces like the designers block at the moment in covent garden or david adjayes pavilion at southbank really carry across a temporal sense of space.

      Sep 22, 08 7:07 pm

      nice blogumenting, and equally nice rebuttal.

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      Aug 16, 09 11:17 pm

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