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Serpentine Pavilion 2019

London, UK

Junya Ishigami's slate structure opens in Kensington Gardens

The curve of the grey slate canopy of the Serpentine Pavilion, which opens today, could almost be an organic outcrop rising out of the ground. It is at one with the grass in London’s Kensington Gardens. This is exactly the aim of Junya Ishigami, the Japanese architect who won this year’s prestigious commission, and is known for dream-like designs that flow between the natural landscape and architectural structures. The design creates “a natural and organic feel as though it had grown out of the lawn, resembling a hill made of rocks,” he says, sitting inside the pavilion. Six hundred tonnes of Cumbrian slate roof pieces are delicately supported by slender steel columns and held together with a mesh. The most challenging part of the project was “using a heavy material and making it look light”, he says.

It is the first time he has used slate, which he describes as a “curious, interesting, natural material to work with.” Ishigami likes its traditional use in architecture. “You can see old stone roofs in architecture in Europe, Japan and universally,” he says. He believes that using natural materials creates a harmony between man and nature. The white and red variations in the slate roof catch the daylight flowing in, and the curve of the canopy frames the trees on one side and the Serpentine Gallery on the other.

He is also intrigued by “the randomness of natural material in architecture. The random shapes of the slate and the way of piling them up were an important part of the project,” he explains.

The most challenging part of the project was using a heavy material and making it look light

The 45-year old worked as an architect at SANAA before setting up his own studio Junya Ishigami +Associates in 2004. A few years later, he won the Japan Institute of Architecture prize for his glass-walled KAIT student workshop, with its distinctive forest of slim columns for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology. The Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale of Architecture for best project for his Architecture as Air Study, followed in 2010. His solo exhibition, Freeing Architecture, at the Cartier Foundation in Paris last year moves to Shanghai’s Power Station of Art, where it opens in July.

Ishigami is the nineteenth architect to design the temporary summer pavilion and follows luminaries such as Zaha Hadid, who designed the first structure in 2000, and Jean Nouvel in 2010. The pioneering commission goes to international architects, including emerging talent who have not built in the UK before, such as Frida Escobedo of Mexico last year, and Francis Kere of Burkina Faso in 2017.

The Serpentine Pavilion opens today and runs until 6 October.