polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

A Place for Contemplation in Central London

by Andrew Wade

Interior garden space by Piet Oudolf.

Last year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London explored playfulness and relied on the impromptu meetings of passersby at ping-pong or chess tables to create a lively and engaging space. This year's pavilion operates under a different logic. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor went for a minimal, contemplative space that envelops and encloses a rectangular garden. This haven from the over-stimulation of central London is presented as a welcome contrast, speaking to the internal life of urban dwellers that needs to be carefully nurtured within the buzz of the city.

Peter Zumthor inspecting the finished pavilion.

The pavilion is uniquely designed for London's notorious light rain, sheltering benches and tables with pitched roofs that direct falling water onto the central garden. The space takes on a different vibe in the evenings, with hallway lights as the only thing pulling the black pavilion out of darkness and marking the extended corridor that mediates the entrance to the enclosed garden.

In an ever more dense and active city, how can we preserve such room for contemplation and reflection on a wider scale? Architects are unofficially charged with the task of producing a graceful urbanism — harmonious density that provides restful spaces along with dynamic public arteries and places of exchange. This year's pavilion is a reminder that simple, natural spaces can become sacred ground within the city.

Credits: Photos from Chris Osburn and Kemey Lafond

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