Lina Ghotmeh Wants You to Make Memories at Her Serpentine Pavilion

The French-Lebanese architect envisioned an airy gathering place that fosters lively discussion and sits gracefully within London’s Kensington Gardens.

Photography by Iwan Baan

Nestled within a wooded clearing in London’s lush Kensington Gardens is this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, a rippling, low-slung structure that Lina Ghotmeh envisioned as a place that fosters lively discussion around the dinner table. Considering food as an expression of care and an opportunity to have moments of conviviality, the French-Lebanese architect intends for the pavilion to simply become a gathering place where memories are made. “It’s an encouragement to enter into a dialogue,” she says, “to convene and to think about how we could reinstate and re-establish our relationship to nature and to Earth.” 

Ghotmeh’s use of sustainable materials fosters feelings of harmony with the park. Glulam beams nodding to nearby tree roots encircle the structure’s scalloped perimeter, with fretwork panels featuring plant-like cutouts that afford the structure dappled airiness and a nighttime glow. Palm leaves inspired its pleated, origami-like roof, which has drawn clever comparisons to paper cocktail umbrellas and giant portobello mushrooms but mimic togunas—shaded structures used for community gatherings—often built by Mali’s Dogon people. Reddish oak tables and stools arranged in a circle foster moments of intimacy inside.

Photography by Iwan Baan
Photography by Iwan Baan

From afar, it’s a bright, elegant sight—and one that aims to critique its own role in contemporary architecture. Credit Ghotmeh’s early interest in archaeology: “I like to dig deep, to ask: why are we doing this,” she says, “and where are we going?” It’s an apt question for the Serpentine Pavilion, the closely watched commission now in its 23rd year, whose sustainability and capacity for profound gestures have come into question. 

Ghotmeh’s pavilion has already been sold and will move to a new home when it closes, on October 29. But the Serpentine remains an unmistakable bellwether of design talent, especially for promising architects with a global perspective and important things to say. (See: Frida Escobedo, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Sumayya Vally, Junya Ishigami.) “As we move forward from one pavilion to another, we’re learning and that’s important,” Ghotmeh says. “Each pavilion is a learning process. I hope the next one will be pushing that forward.”

Photography by Harry Richards
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