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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.90 Santiago ago. 2015 


Architectures of circulation and accumulation:
Reassembling the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions


Marina Otero*(1)

* Research Director, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, Holanda.


What happens with the Serpentine Gallery pavilions once the London summer is over? Based on a research of over three years, this article not only reveals that these pavilions do have a second life in the hands of several private collectors, but also that, following these pavilions’ trajectories, it’s possible to unveil one of the finest mechanisms of capital accumulation through auteur contemporary architecture.

Keywords: Contemporary architecture, London, exhibition, author, temporary.


It is May 2015, and Kensington Gardens awaits the next Serpentine Gallery1 Pavilion designed by SelgasCano in celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of this international commission. The project’s image, however, has been long circulating in the media. It depicts an armor of transverse bands and a variable section, sewn in a multicolor fabric that constricts and ties it to an irregular terrain (Fig. 1).(2) On the lower corners, where the garden reveals itself as a green mat over a wood surface, there is a promise: like its predecessors, the SelgasCano pavilion –funded by Goldman Sachs– will lift its skirts and disappear at the end of summer. With this image, the architects have built an homage to the history of past designs and, at the same time, manifest the articulation of these architectures with the contemporary processes of global circulation and accumulation.

Fig. 1. Proposal. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, SelgasCano, 2015
© Steven Kevin Howson / SelgasCano. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

The architectures produced by the Serpentine Gallery are dismantled at the end of each summer, but don’t disappear. They are sold. As there is no budget allocated for the commission, it is financed by sponsors and the sale of the finished work which, according to the organizers, covers no more than 40% of the costs.(3) Architecture offices, that in most of these cases do not take part in the reinstallation of the pavilions, affirm that the sales process is independently carried out by the Serpentine Gallery –directed by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich-Obrist– and the sales agents Knight Frank.(4) An official report revealed that the first six pavilions had been sold for between £250,000 and £500,000. In 2006, shortly after Obrist joined the gallery, the sale price was more than £750,000.(5) Unofficial sources confirm that the actual numbers are much higher.

According to the inventory realized by the Serpentine Gallery most of the pavilions have been acquired by collectors who prefer to remain anonymous. In 2012, for the first time, the buyer’s name was publicly announced: Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal. With this gesture, the gallery responded to media speculation over the second life of the pavilions, then revived by the ambition of Herzog & De Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s proposal, that is, to move away from the object nature of the previous structures and, in its place, establish a dialogue with the traces and effects on its surroundings (Fig. 2).“Taking an archaeological approach,” the press release explained, “the architects have created a design that inspires the visitors to look beneath the surface of the park, as well as back in time across the ghosts of previous structures.”(6) The idea of digging in search of the history of these architectural works was as fascinating as it was paradoxical; close to the gallery its spirits were invoked, and farther away, the eleven previous pavilions were enjoying a second life with new identities. Both the Herzog & De Meuron and Ai Weiwei and SelgasCano projects invite us to look under the Kensington Gardens ‘carpet’ and explore the history of the Serpentine Gallery architecture.

Fig. 2. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Herzog & de Meuron + Ai Weiwei, 2012
© Iwan Baan. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

What would later become the first Serpentine Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid in 2000, was originally intended for a fundraising dinner to celebrate the gallery’s thirtieth anniversary (Jodidio, 2011). Personalities such as Sting, Steve Martin or the Duke of York were invited to this 600 square meter space protected by a triangulated canvas surface over a metallic structure, with which the architect aspired to the radically reinvent the accepted idea of a marquee (Fig. 3) (Moore, 2010). The structure was to last one week, but awoke so much interest that Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, persuaded the gallery to keep it up for three months, thus creating one of the most important international architecture commissions (Moore, 2010).

Fig. 3. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Zaha Hadid, 2000
© Hélène Binet. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

Hadid’s work also established another precedent: the sale, disassembly, and reutilization of the structure. The pavilion was bought by the Royal Shakespeare Company and reassembled in the parking lot of Stratfordupon- Avon in 2001. The pavilion, renamed as Summer House, served to draw the public from the gardens toward the theater. The program included a cafeteria, an event area providing approximately 100 seats, and new electrical, lighting and plumbing installations.(7) It was the perfect space,” claimed Dean Asker of the Royal Shakespeare Company, “it attracted a lot of visitors that otherwise would not have been interested in going to the theater” (Rose, 2006). According to information provided by the Serpentine Gallery, the pavilion was dismantled at the end of the summer.

The following year’s pavilion, Eighteen Turns, designed by Daniel Libeskind Architects with Arup in 2001, reappeared four years later when it was released by its (unknown) owner and transported to Ireland for the celebration of European Capital of Culture in Cork (Fig. 4). Rebuilt under the supervision of Keogan Architects, the pavilion occupied a site in Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens between May and December 2005.(8) There, it was presented among politicians, real estate developers and planners as an “icon of contemporary Cork, as well as an expression of the creative architecture possibilities for the city’s future” particularly for the (then imminent) urban development of the port area.(9) After rendering its services, Eighteen Turns slipped back into anonymity.

Fig. 4. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Daniel Libeskind + Arup, 2001
© Hélène Binet. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

The acquisition of the pavilion designed by Toyo Ito in 2002 by the magnate Victor Hwang and his company Parkview International, received ample media coverage (Fig. 5). It functioned as a visitor center and the flagship for one of the many proposals for the redevelopment of London’s Battersea power station. As Hwang recalls, after visiting the pavilion in Kensington Garden with his daughter in 2002, he concluded that it was “exactly what new architecture should be.»(10) In that moment, Hwang (who has recently acquired the works of other prestigious architects such as Andrés Jaque) decided to buy the Ito pavilion and “take it to Battersea, to remind him of how creative they have to be there.”(11) Later, it would be transported by road to Le Beavallon, a hotel also belonging to Hwang and located just a few minutes from Saint-Tropez, to be converted into an exclusive tourist destination (Fig. 6). Under the guidance of Cecil Balmond along with a large team of architects, designers, and energy consultants including Jane Withers, Tom Greenall, Jordan Hodgson, or Zebra 3 –but which did not include Toyo Ito–, the structure has been reassembled and adapted to occupy a privileged place within the private club: on the beachfront where the clients enjoy “complete privacy away from the limelight, and yet all the excitement of the Côte d'Azur.”(12)

Fig. 5. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Toyo Ito (design); Cecil Balmond + Arup (assembly), 2002
© Hélène Binet. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

Fig. 6. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Toyo Ito (design); Cecil Balmond + Arup (assembly). Le Beauvallon, Sainte-Maxime, France, 2012.
© Marina Otero

Surprisingly, and despite that the Serpentine Gallery pavilions must be the designers’ first built work in the United Kingdom, the Ito pavilion is not the only one to enjoy retirement in the South of France(13). Neither is it the first to have allowed its owners to combine their interests in real estate investment and collection of auteur architecture. The 2008 pavilion, the Music Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry, landed a few kilometers from Le Beauvallon (Fig. 7). It was bought by the Irish developer Partick McKillen and rebuilt at Château la Coste, a winery that has repositioned itself and maximized its market value by juggling its wines with a collection of art and architecture pieces. In approximately an hour and a half, and after paying the admission fee, visitors can enjoy art and architecture in a landscape scattered with works by Ai Weiwei, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Oscar Niemeyer, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, or Paul Matisse. In this place of “wine, art, and architecture,” the Music Pavilion still shows the scars left by the reconstruction process (Fig. 8). In a scene not very different from the Château la Coste we find the pavilion designed by Smiljan Radić in 2014 (Fig. 9). It has been installed in the Oudolf Field, a garden designed by Piet Oudolf located in the Hauser & Wirth Somerset art center in Bruton –the last of the spaces belonging to the global network of the Hauser & Wirth gallery, with centers in Zurich, London, New York, and Los Angeles.

Fig. 7. Frank O. Gehry, Music Pavillion, Château La Coste, France, 2012.
© Marina Otero

Fig. 8. Frank O. Gehry, Music Pavillion, Château La Coste, France, 2012.
© Marina Otero

Fig. 9. Serpentine Gallery pavilion, Smiljan Radić, 2014
© Iwan Baan. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

The ex-Serpentine inhabit beautiful landscapes, outside the city, and close to the coast; they land or bloom in private spaces where they appear free from the rules and regulations generally applied to permanent constructions; they create spatial products, heirs to the tradition of the landscaped garden and the park of pavilions now implemented with a strong dose of corporate image and architectural prestige. On a journey through the territories in which these Serpentine Gallery pavilions circulate and accumulate, the workings of one of the most efficient machines for the production, reproduction and consumption of auteur architecture are revealed. The trajectories of these architectures also show the relationship between financial capital, cultural capital, and real estate speculation while simultaneously building a series of touristiccultural landscapes in which real estate development and culture collide thanks to the mediation of the symbolic capital of architecture. Here, real estate magnates and architecture collectors are a single figure and, in some cases like that of the Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei project, the sponsors of the pavilion coincide with the last owner, questioning the motivations leading to the choice of architect and the design of this prestigious international commission.

Aware of these controversies, Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei tried to “elude the problem of creating an object, a concrete form,” or simply a transportable, collectable object for the design of the pavilion.(14) Instead of adding another entry to the architectural catalogue of different forms and materials produced since 2000, their project sought to build a landscape formed by the traces of previous pavilions. With this gesture, the Serpentine Gallery’s commission itself was questioned and the future sale of the resulting architecture compromised. However, as we have previously seen, even this “jumble of convoluted lines” guaranteed the existence of a desirable object for collectors.(15)

Notwithstanding, there are exceptions to be found at an amusement park located in Western England. There stands dirty, covered with a gray canvas, and ignored by cultural and communication media (and surely by the author as well), one of the first works of the 2004 Pritzker prize winner: the Serpentine pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid in 2000. All the while its remains and sub-products continue to feed the publications, exhibitions and texts in architecture.

Hadid’s pavilion was not dismantled. After its stay at Stratford-upon- Avon it was passed on to an intermediary agent who supervised the transport of the structure to Flambards Fun Park in Helston Cornwall, Hadid’s pavilion was not dismantled. After its stay at Stratford-upon- Avon it was passed on to an intermediary agent who supervised the transport of the structure to Flambards Fun Park in Helston Cornwall,.(16) Now known as Kingsford Hall, the structure not only survived but was equipped with audiovisual equipment, lighting, and heating, and it’s available to rent for weddings, parties or concerts for £950 a day (Fig. 10-11). This must be what the Serpentine Gallery refers to as “dismantled,” evidencing how upon leaving the circuit of the cultural-intellectual elite is, for some, sufficient motive for questioning the value and authorship of an architectural work.

Fig. 10. Zaha Hadid, Kingsford Venue, Helston – Cornwall, United Kingdom, 2012.
© Marina Otero

Fig. 11. Zaha Hadid, Kingsford Venue, Helston – Cornwall, United Kingdom, 2012.
© Marina Otero

In their multiple assemblies and disassemblies, the Serpentine Gallery pavilions are subject to continuous material transformations as well as changing receptions and practices. Their adventures resonate with our imaginaries of continuous innovation and adaptation, but also render evident the implications of the circulatory regimes of the current global economy, particularly regarding the articulation between architecture, permanence, and belonging. The processes of circulation and global accumulation in which the Serpentine Gallery is inscribed –and which also promotes– destabilize the traditional understanding of context and the relationship of architecture with the land, since they both undermine notions of spatial and temporal permanence as well as the values associated with this relationship. However, as we have seen example after example, these processes translate into specific productions of locality. What the Serpentine Gallery pavilions evidence is that within these processes of assembly and disassembly, material and spatial redistributions are produced in the form of private enclaves where new systems of capital accumulation and extraction are tested.

Finally, and according to its commissioners, the SelgasCano pavilion will travel across the Atlantic by the end of the summer. It will be installed in Los Angeles, and serve as a flagship space for Second Home, a cultural institution and work space for entrepreneurs, open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, where to be admitted as a member there’s no need to pay a fee but only to demonstrate being part of the select group of creative agencies in the area.(17) Its London headquarters in Shoreditch district, also designed by SelgasCano, have been celebrated by the press as the new paradigm of co-working spaces, or the workspace of the future.



1. EThis research began in the seminar “Collecting Architecture: Territories” at GS APP (Columbia University), led by Craig Buckley and Mark Wasiuta in 2012, and has continued since then. Previous versions of this article have been published in Domus web and in the calatog Arquia Próxima 2014, Catalog Arquia/Próxima 2014: Fuera (Barcelona: Fundación Arquia, 2015).

2. “Serpentine Pavilion 2015 Designed by SelgasCano”, Serpentine Gallery official website [Accessed: 03-04-2015]. Available at:

3. Serpentine Gallery, “Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, and Ai Weiwei”. Press release [Accessed: 16-03-2012] Available at:

4. Tomoko Fukuhara, Press SANAA , in a conversation held by email, 02-04-2012. “Unfortunately, we have no information on the sales process since it was conducted by the serpentine in secret, we cannot provide you anything from our end.”.

5. Steve Rose, “The Gas Ceiling”, The Guardian, published on July 2nd, 2006. [Accessed: 15-03-2012]. Available at:

6. Serpentine Gallery, “Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, and Ai Weiwei”. Press release [Accessed: 16-03-2012] Available at:

7. Information provided by Liz Thompson, Director of Communications, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Peter Bailey, Deputy Technical Director, Royal Shakespeare Company, February, 2012.

8. Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens website. [Accessed: 21-03-2012]. Available at:

9.Cork 2005 Archive. [Accessed: 21-03-2012]. Available at:

10. Serpil Barrington-Serle, from Parkview International, in a conversation held at Le Beauvallon in July, 2012. Also published in: Jonathan Glancey, “The Power and the Glory”, The Guardian, July 10, 2005. [Accessed: 04-03-2012]. Available at:

11. Ibid. 

12. Five Star Alliance, website. [Accessed: 21-03-2012]. Available at: 

13. According to the information provided by the curators of the Serpentine Gallery in 2012, some of the pavilions are currently owned by Maja Hoffmann (LUMA Foundation).

14. Serpentine Gallery, «Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012…»

15. IbId. 

16. Information provided by Liz Thompson and Peter Bailey in 2012.

17. Information provided by Emma Enderby, curator of the Serpentine Gallery, during a meeting in London on June 15, 2015. 



JODIDIO, Philip. Serpentine Gallery Pavilions (Cologne: Taschen, 2011)         [ Links ]

1. Marina Otero | Architect, etsa, Madrid, Spain; tu Delft, Netherlands. Msc CCCP, Columbia University, New York, usa. Doctorate candidate at the Departamento de Proyectos, etsa, Madrid, Spain. She has been adjunct profesor and director of the gsapp Studio-X Global Network, Columbia University, usa. Her work has been awarded by the Graham Foundation and Arquia Próxima, and exhibited at The Istanbul Design Biennial and The Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale. She also coedited the books Promiscuous Encounters (2014) and Unmanned (in progress). She is currently the Head of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Chief Curator of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale along with the After Belonging Agency.

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