Serpentine pavilion 2015: a rainbow wormhole ready to suck you into another dimension
A psychedelic pupa has landed in London, and its twisting tunnels were specially designed to be an Instagram paradise……
“The most important colour here is white,” says Jose Selgas, the Spanish architect of this year’s Serpentine pavilion, standing inside the psychedelic cocoon he has built with his partner Lucia Cano, which now shimmers in Kensington Gardens. He’s dressed in green trousers, a blue blazer and red and yellow high-top boots; she’s clutching a neon orange handbag, which could have been ripped straight from the walls that wrap around us in a network of colourful caves. “The white ground is the canvas on which our colours can dance,” he adds, as a caretaker mops the white painted concrete floor moments before the opening. “When the sun comes out, that is.”
The west London skies may be leaden today, but Selgas Cano’s iridescent poly-tunnels still seem to radiate with the warm glow of Spanish sunshine. Formed from layers of ETFE plastic (the kind used for the Eden Project domes) stretched over an undulating cage of steel ribs, the structure wriggles its way across the lawn, bulging outwards in four contorted tentacles. In places, it looks like a chrysalis has been torn open then bandaged with plastic webbing, as if patching up the holes where the creature squirmed its way out. Elsewhere, the tunnels stretch out into gaping orifices, supercharged wormholes ready to suck you into a parallel dimension. Step inside and it feels like exploring the intestines of a slippery deep-sea creature, with stretchy membrane walls giving off an opalescent glimmer.
Step inside a ‘trippy womb’ ... the 2015 Serpentine pavillion, designed by Spanish architects Selgas Cano Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
“We wanted a party pavilion this year,” says the Serpentine Gallery’s director, Julia Peyton-Jones, explaining that the little-known Spanish duo were chosen for the annual pavilions’ landmark 15th birthday year because of their reputation for fun forms and a bold use of colour. Relatively unknown outside their home country, Selgas Cano’s work revels in playful use of cheap components, taking materials like extruded plastic and corrugated sheeting and deploying them in a brilliant, bright bricolage. They’ve built a congress centre in Spain that stands like a crystalline meteorite in the landscape, and a centre for skateboarding and climbing whose bulging orange roof floats above a faceted terrain. In London they 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.
The architects say the design was also inspired by the barely controlled chaos of the London Underground, and there is a feeling of the tube’s maze-like madness in their twisting tunnels, as visitors loop through the multiple layers of plastic sheeting, trying to find out how each passage connects. 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.
Instagrammer’s paradise ... inside the trippy tunnels of Selgas Cano’s Serpentine pavilion Photograph: Iwan Baan
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. But the architects also see the project as a work-in-progress, “a chance to really experiment hard and push a material to its limits,” rather than to craft a complete, polished jewel. Indeed it all feels a bit thrown together, with details and junctions not quite worked out.
“It’s not a finished building,” says Cano. “It is a sketch for something else that may emerge.” Like the pavilions before it, this structure will have a second life and may well be adapted along the way. While Zaha Hadid’s first pavilion, from 2000, has been reborn as an events marquee in a Cornish theme park, and Frank Gehry’s 2008 structure entertains visitors to a French vineyard, the Guardian can exclusively reveal that Selgas Cano’s structure will enjoy a sun-kissed retirement in Los Angeles. It has already been snapped up by Second Home, the east London co-working space that the Spanish architects fitted out last year, a place that feels like a space-age garden centre where “creative nomads” wifi-work in pods among pot plants. The company plans to rebuild the pavilion in LA when it is dismantled at the end of the summer – where at least they can guarantee a bit more sunshine for the intended stained-glass dance of colour.
An alien glow-worm .... the 2015 Serpentine pavilion illuminated by night. Photograph: Iwan Baan
The pavilion follows on from last year’s white space-egg by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, another cocoon-like structure, but one that had a primal feel compared to this year’s super-synthetic pupa. 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.