With the opening of his cloud-like gridded structure in Hyde Park last week, Sou Fujimoto became the youngest architect in the pantheon of Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designers. The pavilion is an annual commission for a temporary structure, always given to a well known architect who is yet to build in the UK. In previous years the commission has been awarded to Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei (2012), Peter Zumthor (2011), Jean Nouvel (2010), SANAA (2009), stretching back to the original pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid in 2000.
With such a prolific history of star designers over the past 13 years, Fujimoto's ethereal design has a lot to live up to. But despite these high expectations, architecture critics have been gushing over the new design. See a full round-up of opinions after the break...
"A magical realisation of an architect's first sketch"
Edwin Heathcote of the Financial Times sings the praises of Fujimoto's pavilion, finding beauty in the simplicity of the structure:
"If you can imagine trying to build a cloud out of sticks, this is it. It sounds completely counterintuitive, the fluffy from the geometric, but what Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto has done is to construct a seductively complex structure from the simplest possible system – a series of white-painted steel sections and glass surfaces.
"Fujimoto’s pavilion is a magical realisation of an architect’s first sketch, a fuzzy mess of horizontal and vertical hatching in which the edges just seem to fade out and crudely implied figures hover mysteriously at different levels."
Not only does Heathcote approve of this year's pavilion in itself, he also praises the idea of the annual Serpentine commission and the freedom which allows such pure forms of architecture:
"The wonderful thing about a pavilion in a park is that the practical problems of creating such a structure in the real bourgeois metropolis of land value, economics and use class just melt away. The Serpentine Pavilion programme provides a platform for pure architectural ideas unfettered by concerns over function – which is precisely what makes it such a delight. Its impermanence makes it an event, creating an intensity that permanent architecture struggles to supply. Fujimoto has delivered a building that is ineffably light and seductively complex, perhaps the most exquisite this site has seen."
"A beautiful mystery of light, space and geometry"
Jay Merrick of The Independent is similarly impressed by the pavilion, complimenting the way it brings together seemingly incongruous ideas:
"Everything about the pavilion is ambiguous. It looks finished and unfinished, delicate and substantial, hard-edged and softly indistinct. The charming 42-year-old Fujimoto has created a seductive maze of perspectives that lead your gaze into the structure and then, very teasingly, turns apparently strict structural order into impossible visual riddles."
"Another successful year"
Editor of the Architect's Journal, Christine Murray seems on the whole rather impressed with the structure despite what could be seen as flaws:
"Climbing the structure, especially in stark sunlight, is a tricky business, with all those white lines, solids and voids. Is this what it would feel like to find your footing on a cloud? But risk is the essential ingredient of play and climbing the pavilion is fun, to find your seat in the branches of this ‘white forest’, as Fujimoto describes it."
Like Heathcote, Murray commends the program of the Serpentine Pavilion model for the freedom it gives to architects and their ideas. However she points out that there are some compromises that one can never quite avoid:
"Unfortunately, health and safety considerations forced the inclusion of some not very elegant balustrades, pushed through by the planning authorities. The fat tubing sticks out against the delicacy of the 8km of 20mm steel lengths employed throughout. Fujimoto insists that, although they were introduced late, they were not a compromise. They do feel so."
"One of the most radical pavilions to date"
Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright sees the pavilion differently to the frequently used cloud metaphor, and as ever he has an analogy to support his observation:
"Stepping inside, surrounded by this all-pervasive grid, feels like entering a computer mainframe, as imagined in the 1980s. It is a dazzling, Tron-like landscape of infinite white lines, the modular, cubic units of which form terraces of seating and steps, side tables and a coffee bar, as if Fujimoto has revealed an invisible geometric order of which the whole world is made."
Once again, he is impressed by the pavilion but is concerned about how it will cope now it has become a part of the 'real world':
"where it meets the realities of safety and access, his continuous landscape is fettered with balustrades and safety rails to stop you hitting your head – as well as layers of acrylic discs to keep out the rain...Fujimoto's cloud is somewhat deflated when it meets the real world. But as a powerful distillation of a young architect's ideas and one of the most radical pavilions to date, it sets a promising direction for the Serpentine programme."
Not so fast...
However, among all the praise there is one voice which seems at least a little doubtful. Ellis Woodman of BD seems to think that Fujimoto's design has overreached in its quest for architectural invention:
"After a century of attempts to extend its definition to encompass an ever wider range of activities the suspicion remains that the one function in which architecture is inextricably rooted is the provision of shelter. Sou Fujimoto’s Serpentine Pavilion may just about fulfil that essential role but it is a close call."
Once again, Woodman points to health and safety requirements as the potential downfall of the pavilion:
"Steps with balustrades have been provided but the more intrepid visitor is also free to ramble across irregularly disposed areas of raked seating faced both horizontally and vertically in glass. I fear some conscientious stewarding is going to be called for if the pavilion is to avoid being draped in hazard tape before the week is out."