Inspired by a tree, Francis Kéré creates the 17th Serpentine Pavilion

LONDON – Francis Kéré grew up in a desert village in the impoverished West African country of Burkina Faso and now heads a flourishing architectural practice in Berlin. That leap from one climate and culture to another is symbolized in the pavilion he has created for the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

An elliptical canopy is cantilevered from a lightweight steel frame, abstracting the trees that surround it, and referring back to the tree that provides shade and a gathering place in African villages. Fanned slats of wood provide shade and a transparent membrane channels rain through a central opening to create an internal waterfall on wet days. Prefabricated wood panels were assembled to create four, free-standing walls with entrances between them. The wood is stained blue, its component parts angled to suggest a patterned fabric, and small openings turn it into a giant lantern at night.

Kéré's deceptively simple shelter is the 17th summer pavilion to occupy this bucolic site at the heart of Kensington Gardens, alongside the neo-Georgian gallery that has become a hub of avant garde art and cultural activities throughout the year. The program began by chance in 2000, when Zaha Hadid designed a one-night shelter for the annual fundraiser and it stayed up for three months. Early commissions went to Pritzker prizewinners who had never built in England; over the past four years the emphasis has shifted to mavericks and younger practitioners. Kéré is 52 and has won awards for his innovative work around the world.


Past pavilions have often emphasized form over function, as though they were art installations, while neglecting practical concerns. Kéré, who was inspired to become an architect by his experience of attending a hot, dimly-lit village school, takes a more pragmatic approach. ‘My projects have a strong focus on climate and energy,’ he observes. ‘It is important to introduce structures that embrace natural ventilation and daylight not only in under-developed areas but also in places like London. The design of the pavilion is meant to enhance the visitor's experience of nature – not only the landscape but also the wind, sun, and rain.’

Billboard: Frame Awards
Billboard: Frame Awards

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