Serpentine Pavilion, London, United Kingdom, 2011
The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 is designed by world-renowned Swiss architect Peter
Zumthor. This year’s Pavilion is the 11th commission in the Gallery’s annual series, the
world’s first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind. It is the architect’s first
completed building in the UK and includes a specially created garden by the influential Dutch
designer Piet Oudolf.
At the heart of Peter Zumthor’s Pavilion is a garden that the architect hopes will inspire
visitors to become observers. Zumthor says his design ‘aims to help its audience take the time
to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, start to talk again - maybe not.’ The design emphasises
the role the senses and emotions play in our experience of architecture. With a refined
selection of materials Zumthor creates contemplative spaces that evoke the spiritual
dimension of our physical environment. As always, Zumthor’s aesthetic goal is to customise
the building precisely to its purpose as a physical body and an object of emotional experience.
Zumthor has stated that ‘the concept for this year’s Pavilion is the hortus conclusus, a
contemplative room, a garden within a garden. The building acts as a stage, a backdrop for the
interior garden of flowers and light. Through blackness and shadow one enters the building
from the lawn and begins the transition into the central garden, a place abstracted from the
world of noise and traffic and the smells of London – an interior space within which to sit, to
walk, to observe the flowers. This experience will be intense and memorable, as will the
materials themselves – full of memory and time.’
Materials have always played an evocative as well as an essential role in the buildings designed
by Zumthor. The 2011 Pavilion is constructed of a lightweight timber frame wrapped with scrim
and coated with a black Idenden over scrim. Exterior and interior walls with staggered
doorways offer multiple paths for visitors to follow, gently guiding them to a central, hidden
inner garden. The covered walkways and seating surrounding this central space create a
serene, contemplative environment from which visitors look onto the richly planted sunlit
garden, the heart and focus of the building.
With this Pavilion, as with previous structures such as the famous Thermal Baths at Vals,
Switzerland, or the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Mechernich, Germany, Zumthor has emphasised
the sensory and spiritual aspects of the architectural experience, from the precise yet simple
composition and ‘presence’ of the materials, to the handling of scale and the effect of light.
Piet Oudolf is a prominent garden designer and a leading figure of the New Perennial planting
movement. His award-winning designs emphasise the natural architecture of plants, using
expressive drifts of grasses and herbaceous perennials to create gardens that evolve in form
throughout the lives of the plants. These are chosen for their structure, form, texture and
colour, showcasing many different varieties in his compositions. Oudolf has pioneered an
approach to gardening that embraces the full life-cycle of plants, delighting in their beauty
throughout the seasons.
Piet Oudolf said: “I am very pleased to be collaborating with Peter Zumthor and the
Serpentine Gallery on this year’s Pavilion and to be part of this exciting project. My work aims
to bring nature back into human surroundings and this Pavilion provides the perfect
opportunity for people to reflect and relax in a contemplative garden away from the busy
The Serpentine’s Pavilion commission, conceived in 2000 by Gallery Director Julia Peyton-
Jones, has become an international site for architectural experimentation and follows a decade
of Pavilions by some of the world’s greatest architects. Each Pavilion is sited on the Gallery’s
lawn for three months and the immediacy of the commission – a maximum of six months from
invitation to completion – provides a unique model worldwide.