The new Serpentine Pavilion by SelgasCano is beautiful in the photographs, especially nocturnal ones, but a disappointment during the day.
A booth decorated with cellotape. A massive body bag. A keleidoscope of phosphorescent colours, the ones that fashion and design brands have been feeding us for so long and to such an extent that they feel almost passé. The Serpentine Pavilionby SelgasCano that I saw in London yesterday reminded me of all this: a cocktail of banalities. I was truly disappointed. Not only because the Spanish architects usually churn out intelligent projects that make people experience daily life a different, more interesting way (I am thinking of their own beautiful offices built in a wood or of the Factory Mérida skating park); but also because amongst the great hum-drum of temporary architectures usually the Serpentine Pavilion – which is designed each year by a different studio – is set apart from the pack for its capacity to use ephimeral structures to investigate interesting topics for permanent ones.
Yet this time I had the impression that there was really nothing to figure out. Getting there from the bridge that separates Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens, the pavilion peeps out from behind the trees. And one cannot help wondering if that pieces of yellow plastic, that hints to recycling bags, are actually part of the building that you expect (having seen the pictures, published everywhere) to be gigantic and precious like a hightech Chinese lantern. They are. And the pavilion has nothing to do with the images shot by Iwan Baan at night, when the lights give life to this great tent from the inside, and create truly pleasant effects. “Wow” effects, obviously. A paradise for Instagram addicts. The physical equivalent of the many renderings that intoxicate the real world with unattainable dreams.
But when you see it during the day, the Pavilion appears in its sadness: tubes covered with colours sheets of plastic, a stylist’s trick, not an architect’s vision. Inside, it is desolate. There is a small bar with some tables. When I enter it, these are occupied by sweaty parents and shouting kids, some overweight toutists and women in bermuda shorts, all focused on their drinks and sandwiches. The coolest thing here are the “guards” who are there to protect the masterpiece (there is one for each arm of the structure): their hipster beards leave you thinking that someone might have gone all the way to NYC to get them. The eyes are attracted by the colours of the plastic – flashy, fun, ever changing – or by the cellotape walls (a trick Paola Navone has used for years to create attractive stands at furniture fairs). But then, sadly, the glance also moves downwards, towards the black marks (steps, mud) that have turned the originally white floor into a mess, of the sort you would find in a camping tent.
It is not nice to see. Everything gets dirty, it’s normal. But not considering the human factor is a design mistake, not just a small cleaning issue. In the end I leave, and I am a bit sad. Thinking that the image culture is absorbing reality so fast and it is hurting us. That the possibility to create places that will look stunning in a picture is becoming a trap, an excuse to do just the bare minimum, to turn public relations into content. There were better ways to spend by one free hour in London.