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Will this year’s Serpentine Pavilion really get people talking?

9 June 2023

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion is quite a contrast to last year’s. In 2022 Theaster Gates placed a huge black tower in the grounds of Hyde Park, Lina Ghotmeh’s pavilion has a parasol or cocktail umbrella-like roof and sits comparatively low and lightly on top of concertinaed walls, which have a leafy design cut into them. It’s a pale woody brown colour and while looking a little like an Ikea flatpack, it feels more welcoming than Gates’s monolith. It seems like the response of an architect, rather than that of an artist like Gates, a sensitive building rather than a bold statement.

The 2023 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Lina Ghotmeh. Photo: Iwan Baan; courtesy Serpentine; © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture.

A design reference for Ghotmeh was Malian togunas, meeting places built by the Dogon people in Mali. Togunas are built with intentionally low roofs, to force people to sit for meetings (thanks Wikipedia). There’s a touch of architectural-hipster reference point here, however, as togunas are often rectangular and have quite ornate pillars (thanks Google image search); Ghotmeh’s roof never gets low enough to force anyone to sit. 

Photo: Iwan Baan; courtesy Serpentine; © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture

Overall, it’s a pleasant and, as far as Serpentine Pavilions go, quite a conservative building – a long way from SelgasCano’s fluorescent rave maze in 2015, or Koolhaas and Balmond’s ‘Cosmic Egg’ in 2006. Instead the high concept for Ghotmeh comes with long, communal tables that run around the interior, echoing the star-shaped skylight in the roof. The press release explains the tables as ‘inviting us to convene and celebrate exchanges that enable new relationships to form’. An aim reflected in the name for the pavilion, À table, a French term for telling people it’s meal time. Placed in the middle of a city where eye contact on tube trains is barely tolerated,  communal tables are perhaps the most challenging feature for the British public. However the opportunity to shelter may tempt people to sit as they wait for an un-forecast shower to pass. Perhaps this will spark the spontaneous discussions Ghotmeh is hoping for. It shouldn’t take much to encourage people to complain about the rain.

The Serpentine Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery, London, is open until 29 October.