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26/09/2011
Serpentine Gallery – Park Nights

Zumthor @ Serpentine

Peter Zumthor and Piet Oudolf with Fritz Hauser and Peter Conradin Zumthor
Friday 9th September 2011

On a warm September afternoon we found ourselves among a small gathering of people that had come to hear Peter Zumthor talk about his Summer Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery. Piet Oudolf, a planting designer and expert horticulturalist was also present – to discuss the process of selecting various plants to create the mesmerising central garden within the Pavilion.

During the talk Zumthor spoke simply and with an almost childlike innocence about some of the ideas behind the pavilion. The evening ended with ‘The Call of the Drum’ a performance by Peter Conradin Zumthor. Based on a ritualistic bass-drum pattern using space and distance to create new sound perspectives.

Infinite shadows

The pavilion itself is a fairly simple timber structure with a central event field of not only flowers but insects, life, light and importantly according to Zumthor – shadow.

What appealed to me the most was the fact that the edges of the pavilion seemed to fade to darkness while the garden itself was bathed in brilliant light. Reinforcing a depth that intentionally denies us the buildings edges.

The feeling of infinite space at the back of the pavilion is achieved through the application of a mute black hessian material, that seems to suck light from the air.

The atmosphere, reminded me of a book once read; ‘In Praise of Shadows’ an essay on aesthetics written by Junichiro Tanizaki one of the greatest Japanese novelists.

The essay discusses architecture, jade and food among other things; but it was the particular inquiry into the collision between the shadow’s of traditional Japanese interiors and the stark light of the modern age which the pavilion reminded me of. I felt these ideas and the contrasts between both worlds had been made visual and were intentionally controlled.

Overall it felt comfortable, natural and primordial.

A courtyard to the sky

The simple idea of a central courtyard open to the sky of course is a timeless architectural idea. The House of the tragic poet a 2nd century Roman house in Pompeii is a good example. The Homeric House with its mythological frescoes, large central reflecting pool open to the sky had been replaced here in the Pavilion with a beautiful garden that amplified the feeling of nature.

The honey bees within the central garden however seemed to have been convinced enough. They carried on with the timeless process of pollination, in complete indifference to the human meaning that was being processed and experienced by all those present.

Kristian Alexander Hyde

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