The Serpentine Summer Pavilion in Kensington Gardens.
Updated: Jul 5
Kensington Gardens is the height of British tradition with its formal layout, royal palace, fountains and statues. The Serpentine Gallery has always run counter to that tradition with an eclectic programme of modern and contemporary art from around the world.
The Serpentine Summer Pavilion builds on that with a temporary building from world renowned architects seeking to stamp their mark on this leafy corner of London.
The Serpentine Gallery
The Serpentine gallery came into being in 1970 when genteel Victorian tea rooms were converted into a gallery and since then have played host to some of the world’s most famous artists such as Man Ray, Henry Moore, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Damien Hurst.
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery
More recently, in 2013 a sister gallery called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery opened just a stone’s throw away in Kensington Gardens in what was a gunpower store built in 1805. A contemporary extension designed by the world-renowned architect late Zaha Hadid was added, creating a significant increase in gallery space.
The Summer Pavilion
In 2000 the Summer Pavilion initiative started, and with the exception of 2020 during the height of the Covid restrictions, it has taken place annually ever since. To qualify, the architect or design team must not have completed a building in England at the time of the invitation.
The Pavilion remains on the lawn adjacent to the Serpentine Gallery for 3 months throughout the summer. During that period, it is open to the public and has a café during the day and in the evening hosts a programme of events and performances.
The Summer Pavilion is funded by mainly corporate sponsorship and the eventual sale of the structure.
This year the Summer Pavilion has been designed by South African architectural practice Counterspace. Built from steel, cork and timber covered cement the effect is a wonderful mixture of shapes under a large canopy.
When we visited on a sunny early June afternoon, the Summer Pavilion was very much at its best with sharp forms casting shadows and the subtle pink and brown shades fully apparent.
We are great fans of the Summer Pavilion project and have certainly missed it when Covid restrictions prevented it going ahead in 2020. The pavilion is on the route of our walking tour of Kensington Gardens so we very much recommend a visit and are sure you will appreciate the contrasts of this contemporary structure compared to the likes of the Albert Memorial.
To give you a flavour of the wide variation of architectural styles and concepts, below are some of the previous years' Summer Pavilions. Starting with a favourite of ours by the architectural practice BIG.
This magnificent structure consisted entirely of stacked blocks, which at some angles allowed light to flow into the structure and at others created an amazing tessellation effect.
Peter Zumthor proved less is more with a simple wooden courtyard structure and created an oasis of calm and beauty for visitors to sit and contemplate a spectacular flower garden.
Sou Fujimoto's lattice creation resembling a metal cloud, had cleverly located plastic discs to shield visitors from the elements, along with steps for them to climb up the structure.
Summer Pavilion Frequently Asked Questions
When does Summer Pavilion take place?
The Serpentine Summer Pavilion takes place between 11th June and 17th October 2021 between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00 every day.
Where is the Serpentine Gallery?
The Serpentine Gallery is just off the West Carriage Drive which is a road that separates Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park after you have crossed the Serpentine Bridge. If you are taking the Lancaster Hall Hotel walking tour of Kensington Gardens you will find it on the route just passed the Parakeets.
Where is the nearest tube?
The nearest tube station is Lancaster Gate. On exiting the tube, enter Kensington Gardens just opposite and follow the path directly to the right of the Italian Fountains. Keep to the path passing the Peter Pan statue and the parakeets. Take the right-hand path with Queen Anne's temple on your right, you will the Serpentine Gallery straight ahead.
How much is the entrance fee and do I need to book in advance?
The Pavilion is free to enter although during the Covid restrictions numbers have been limited and at busy times it may be necessary to queue before you can enter.