Peter Zumthor has been one of my heroes for a long time now. He works from a small studio in the village of Haldenstein, Switzerland and over the past 30 years or more has consistently produced buildings that whilst reduced to only the most relevant essentials, embody a most extraordinary richness – the results are always emotionally moving, buildings that belong completely to their place and will do so for time eternal. Through their subtleness and masterful refinement, they all posses a most extraordinary strength, presence and memorability.
Zumthor won the Pritzker Prize in 2009 – there is no bigger award for Architecture, and to my mind, no architect more worthy of it. So as I sat on the plane, planning a few-day visit to London, Hyde Park Zumthor’s summer Pavilion at the Serpentine, Hyde Park, was top of my list. A temporarary structure, built to a tight time frame and an even tighter budget, the Serpentine Pavilion nonetheless manifests Zumthor’s mastery of his art.
After the jostling streets of Kensington, the grand gates of Hyde Park signal a change of pace, and upon first sight of the Pavilion a welcome calm washes over me. Entering the perimeter corridors of the metal structure, kept in almost total darkness, is like entering Zumpthor’s private world: even in the middle of one of the world’s busiest, wealthiest cities, the experience is one of humility and transcendence. The courtyard space is simple and beautiful. Simply beautiful. As always with Zumthor’s work, respect for the human scale is demonstrated by the ceiling height of the covered space around the garden. In the garden itself, there is an almost irresistible urge to take a seat, pull down the pulse rate, and reflect. So I did.
Upon reflection, the visual experience of the Serpentine Pavilion is composed of three key elements:
Architecture – all in a singular material, folded and sculpting the experience, in contrast to the
Garden (by Piet Oudolf) – as a delicate, whimsical and delightful centerpiece, and,
Sky – dynamically framed by the splayed roof form, making it feel expansive, and creating the feeling that light is rushing through a funnel to connect with the garden.