Photographer Nikhilesh Haval of nikreations has shared with us this virtual tour of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. Taking viewers through a series of 360-degree panoramas shot on a mercifully sunny day, the tour shows off the pavilion's striking colors to good effect and gives some indication of the complex and dynamic arrangement of the design's double skin.
For those won't get the opportunity to visit for themselves, Haval's virtual tour is a great way to experience SelgasCano's psychedelic space as it gives a reasonable impression of what it feels like to actually be there. I can say that with some authority because, since I last wrote about the pavilion, I got the chance to visit it myself - and what I found was completely different to the pavilion I might have expected had I been taking cues from our comments section. I'd like to talk to our readers about that directly, if I may.
To be clear, I'm not saying SelgasCano's pavilion was perfect. Reports of shoddy detailing where the ETFE sheets met the frame have perhaps been exaggerated; you have to really look for flaws, but they are there, mostly in the furthest corners of the structure near to the floor. What hasn't been exaggerated is that the space inside is hot - but as much as this is a functional flaw, it is only as bad as Sou Fujimoto's Pavilion, which leaked so much when it rained that the roof may as well have been scrapped entirely.
Despite these faults, the pavilion is an excellent response to a very, very simple brief: make a space that's enjoyable. Oliver Wainwright's claim that the structure is an "Instagrammer’s paradise" is entirely correct: it is fun to take photos of the pavilion and share them with friends. While there, I was also enchanted by the ETFE itself; in some places it manages to be two different colors at once, reflective and translucent, all at the same time. But unquestionably the highlight of my time spent there was seeing a girl of about four years old running up to her friend to tell her about the "secret passages" and asking her friend to come and play. That's the kind of joy SelgasCano's pavilion can inspire if you're willing to look at it without cynicism.
Yet regardless of this, the comments we received on our articles about the pavilion were astonishingly negative - more than that, they were often cynical, and very few made an effort to explain their distaste for the design. This reflects an issue that we've been having across the site: the level of serious engagement in our comments section has declined in favor of aggression, cynicism and sarcastic jokes.
Comments sections on the internet have been notorious since - well, since forever - for the poor quality debate that often takes place on them. However in the past year or so, all across the internet this issue has been kicked into hyperdrive. In some places it's been so bad that publishers have removed their comments section entirely. The Verge, for example, recently "called a timeout" on their comments section for a few months, hoping that after a "super chill summer" their commenters would calm down a little.
One of the earliest online publishers to cut their comments section in this way was Popular Science, way back in 2013. In their case, the problem was more complex: they cited a study which found that in science journalism, the comments people left on an article (even if those comments had little to do with the topic at hand) could change the way other readers perceived the scientific work being discussed. And science is an objective field - if commenters can affect other readers that much in science, imagine the effect they have on the subjective arena of architecture.
This brings me to a key point: the internet ecosystem that we publish in is very unbalanced. If you "like" something, there's a button for that, and our readers use it all the time. But if you dislike something, the only way to express that is to write it down somewhere, often in the comments. For the Serpentine Pavilion, most of our articles gathered over 800 likes when shared on Facebook. But it's the 10 people coughing up spite in the comments section that people will remember, and that will change the way they think about architecture.
So please consider this a gentle reminder: you are important. And what you say in our comments section is very important. Of course you don't have to like everything - but if you do dislike something, try to be diplomatic in your approach. If we're going to make architecture better, the comments section needs to be a debate chamber, not a boxing ring.
Enjoy Nikhilesh Haval's virtual tour of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. I hope it helps you see things through someone else's eyes.