SelgasCano's Serpentine Pavilion: "Cheap Plastic Bag" or "Pop-Art Inflatable Funscape"?

We're just three days into the four-month display of SelgasCano's 2015 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion and the comments it has generated from ArchDaily readers have already been as colorful as the pavilion itself - with criticisms ranging from "worst Serpentine Gallery Pavilion ever" to "trash bag monster" and a few other comparisons that I'd rather not even repeat. This may surprise some people, but at ArchDaily we do actually read the comments section, and we get it: unless you're the brave and persistent soul who comments as "notyourproblem," who thinks "it must be exciting getting inside those tunnels," there's a good chance that you hate this pavilion - and I don't use the word "hate" lightly.

But is this violent dismissal warranted? In short, is SelgasCano's pavilion as bad as you probably think it is? Fortunately, we're not the only publication giving the pavilion extensive coverage: as usual the Serpentine Gallery has attracted a number of the UK's most well-known critics. Find out what they thought of the pavilion after the break.

SelgasCano's Serpentine Pavilion: Cheap Plastic Bag or Pop-Art Inflatable Funscape? - More Images

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

"Something between an agricultural polytunnel and a Pop-Art inflatable funscape" - Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times

One critic who would almost certainly disagree with our commenters is Edwin Heathcote. Writing for the Financial Times he admits that the pavilion lacks finesse, but still seems to find plenty of reasons to forgive this:

"From close up, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion looks a bit of a bodge; taped together, perhaps a little leaky, ad hoc with an almost childlike sense of fun rather than permanence. But it is also a terrifically enjoyable blast of candy-coloured sweetness, a Pop Art kickback to a 1960s sensibility of disposability and playfulness."

Recalling the somewhat modest first installment of the Serpentine program, a rather simple angular tent by Zaha Hadid all the way back in 2000, Heathcote argues:

"This year’s contribution is closer in spirit to Hadid’s tent than it is to some of the more structurally ambitious efforts, something between an agricultural polytunnel and a Pop-Art inflatable funscape."

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

"An Instagrammer’s paradise" - Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian

Like Heathcote, in The Guardian Wainwright admits that the design "feels a bit thrown together, with details and junctions not quite worked out," but again is won over by the pavilion's sense of fun:

"The place comes alive with people, a shadow-dance of shapes and reflections, as park life melds into a pearly soap-bubble mirage. At night, it transforms into a fantastical alien glow-worm."

Noting the Serpentine's desire for a "party pavilion" to celebrate their 15th anniversary, Wainwright adds that SelgasCano "have followed the Serpentine’s brief for a festive folly to the letter: the pavilion could well have been fashioned from leftover balloons and party-popper streamers, woven together in a celebratory tangle." He also adds that:

With its multiple orifices and alluring glimpses around corners, it is also an Instagrammer’s paradise, something that is no coincidence: Selgas admits that how it would be photographed played a key part in the composition"

In the end though, Wainwright sees a connection between this pavilion and last year's offering by Smiljan Radić:

"Both embody an almost anti-architectural approach, quite distinct from the first decade of monument-pavilions by big-name architects, and seem to be consciously resisting the pressure to construct a manifesto in miniature. Architectural purists might sniff at what looks like a kids’ funfair maze from the outside – until they’re sucked through the wormhole and swallowed inside Selgas Cano’s trippy womb."

© Laurian Ghinitoiu

"Among the Serpentine’s least successful pavilions" - Robert Bevan, London Evening Standard

One critic who seems to take the same view as many of our readers is Robert Bevan, writing his critique in a short footnote to the paper's main news story about the opening. He writes:

"You can imagine what the architects had in mind — a shifting kaleidoscope grotto or a brilliant chrysalis formed by one of nature’s more flamboyant creatures. Unfortunately, what’s been delivered is a clown’s sleeve."

Noting the pavilion's shoddy finishing and a concept that was somewhat compromised from the architect's initial plan to use a single material for structure and enclosure, Bevan concludes:

"However, (almost) all is forgiven when the sun comes out as the overheated poly-tunnel is transformed into a cathedral nave: the sunlight casts panels of colour across the white floor while shadows from the opaque ribbons recall the lead framing of stained glass. It is a transitory glimpse of what might have been."

© Jim Stephenson

"The right to fail comes with the territory" - Ellis Woodman, The Telegraph

Perhaps the most interesting take on the pavilion comes from Ellis Woodman, writing in the Telegraph. For Woodman, the appointment of SelgasCano represents a continuation of the Serpentine's "renewed sense of purpose" of the past few years, with the Gallery seeking out true emerging talents rather than "playing it safe" with the big names it has dabbled with in the past. But while he applauds that fact, he believes that the pavilion itself "tries hard but doesn't quite work":

"Viewed across the park, the effect is startling and promises to be still more so at night when internal lighting transforms the pavilion into a glowing beacon. Seen closer up, however, the treatment is less convincing."

While he recognizes the practicality in the fact that this pavilion is "one of the cheapest and cheerful for many years," he argues:

"It is still hard not to be disappointed by the distinctly ropey nature of the structure’s detailing. Reconciling the plastic membrane to the complicated geometry of the steelwork has clearly proved a particular challenge. After a heavy-night’s rainfall, the assembled members of the press found themselves dodging drips at Monday’s launch."

He also finds reason to question the supposed intentions of the designers:

"The architects describe the desire to establish a relationship between the pavilion and its parkland setting as a key motivation behind the design, so it is somewhat bewildering to discover that, on entering it, we are almost entirely unable to look out."

However, despite his disappointment, Woodman concludes with a pointed comment on the experimentation, and by extension the constant threat of failure, that is offered by the Serpentine commission:

"If their efforts represent a near-miss, the Serpentine is still to be applauded for its commitment to supporting this unique annual experiment. The pavilion programme offers architects a rare opportunity to try out ideas that a more costly and permanent commission would not allow. The right to fail comes with the territory."

For more images of the 2015 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion by SelgasCano, follow the links to our previous coverage below:

Iwan Baan's Images of Selgas Cano's 2015 Serpentine Pavilion

SelgasCano's 2015 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Opens

SelgasCano's Serpentine Pavilion / Images by Laurian Ghinitoiu

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "SelgasCano's Serpentine Pavilion: "Cheap Plastic Bag" or "Pop-Art Inflatable Funscape"?" 25 Jun 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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