Pavilions and People

Pavilions offer architectural exploration; prototypes used to distil speculative ideas, test forms and innovate using unusual materials and emerging technologies. Their ephemerality can provide architects the ideal means to experiment free from the burdens of regulation and longevity.

Serpentine Gallery is a leading architectural pavilion exhibitor. Their annual program was conceived by the former curator when she casually asked her friend Zaha Hadid to create a temporary structure for a fundraising gala.1 Pavilions have appeared on London’s Kensington lawn each year since. The commissioned architect is briefed only to express their unique artistic language and achieve something exemplary; no practical requirements are specified.2

The absence of formal function blurs the distinction between architectural typology and artistic medium, yet these pavilions are more than an elementary sculptural object. They offer flexible gathering space with various programmatic possibilities, even if simply inviting people to enter and plainly spend time. Such places that are free and accessible to all demographics of society are integral to unifying people and fostering a sense of community.

In this digital age, people are said to be making fewer real life connections. The meeting of pavilion visitors can be more diverse and meaningful than a simple intersection, with designs encouraging exploration, participation and interaction. Some can delight visitors with the unexpected, or provide moving and memorable experiences. Serpentine hosts collaborative evenings where artists, musicians, dancers and film-makers create site-specific works in response to the architectural form.3 Offering a unique and dynamic place for people to connect demonstrates the important role architecture plays in facilitating social interaction and contributing to culture.

Pavilions are placed in the public domain to invite speculation; their impermanence is central to their appeal in striking intrigue. Experience of these fleeting spaces stimulates dialogue, and the more architects can get people talking about design, the more it will be valued. Operating as a forum for the exchange of ideas, pavilions typically host a program of educational lectures, workshops, installations and performances; these transactions can enliven our public realm, contributing to the liveability of our urban environment.

Serpentine has served as a catalyst; its model is being echoed internationally. New York’s MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program tasks emerging talent with designing an innovative pavilion in the museum’s summertime courtyard,4 while Melbourne’s successful MPavilion is entering its fifth year, reinforcing the city as a leading creative capital.5 Pavilions are proving an explorative and expressive typology, able to further architectural discourse and facilitate meaningful public experience; advancing the notion that architecture is not only a product, but can have a tangible and enriching impact on the quality of our lives.


1 Roux, Caroline. “Julia Peyton-Jones on leaving the Serpentine Gallery and her architecture pavilion legacy.” The Telegraph. Accessed 28-Apr-2018.

2 “AR Interview: Julia Peyton-Jones on Serpentine pavilions” The Architectural Review, Apr 22, 2016. Accessed 28-Apr-2018.

3 Serpentine Galleries. “Pavilions.” Accessed 28-Apr-2018.

4 MoMA. “Young Architects Program (YAP).” Accessed 28-Apr-2018.

5 “About MPavilion.” Accessed 28-Apr-2018.