Inside Junya Ishigami’s cave-like Serpentine Pavilion at London’s Kensington Gardens

A ‘discovery’ in the landscape

The opening of the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens is the unofficial start of summer in the capital. Given the weather, it’s fitting this year’s design by Japanese architect Junya Ishigami has been something of a non-event, overshadowed by the resignation of the Serpentine Galleries’ CEO Yana Peel earlier this week – and previous controversy around unpaid internships offered by Ishigami’s practice.

But when the mutterings die down and the sun begins to shine, there’s an architectural feast to be enjoyed at the leafy London site with a triumphant pavilion whose engineering is extremely clever and quietly confident.

Ishigami’s structure offers intrigue to those who venture beneath its rocky roof. The Japanese architect is the 19th to take on the annual commission, and his neolithic design caters to that most primal of human urges – the desire to retreat and cocoon.

The architect describes it as a ‘stone garden’, and it emerges from the landscape as though a natural occurrence. Its 61-tonne roof is built from shards of blue Cumbrian slate and held aloft by 4.6-metres-high orthogonal mesh steel to create a cave beneath.

Inside Junya Ishigami’s cave-like Serpentine Pavilion at London’s Kensington Gardens
Photography: Rosella Degori

The true mark of a space is how it feels, and Ishigami’s 2019 Serpentine Pavilion challenges the senses. It feels at once enclosed and open – both a vantage point to observe the comings and goings of the adjacent gallery and a refuge from them.

It’s a smart dichotomy that echoes the simultaneous heaviness and light of its ‘floating’ slate roof which is perhaps too subtle to be as Instagramable as SelganasCanos’ or Bjarke Ingels’ forerunners but speaks sympathetically to its surrounds. Moreover, it possesses a gentleness that contrasts previous editions – the most enduring takeaway that will last beyond the summer months.

Junya Ishigami’s 2019 Serpentine Pavilion is open to the public from 21 June – 6 October

Inside Junya Ishigami’s cave-like Serpentine Pavilion at London’s Kensington Gardens
Photography: Rosella Degori
Inside Junya Ishigami’s cave-like Serpentine Pavilion at London’s Kensington Gardens
Photography: Rosella Degori for The Spaces
Inside Junya Ishigami’s cave-like Serpentine Pavilion at London’s Kensington Gardens
Photography: Rosella Degori for The Spaces

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