The launch of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery marks a new era for the internationally acclaimed arts organisation, which has championed new ideas in contemporary arts since it opened in 1970. The Serpentine has presented pioneering exhibitions of 1,600 artists over 43 years, from the work of emerging practitioners to the most internationally recognised artists and architects of our time, such as Louise Bourgeois, Frank Gehry, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.
The new Sackler Gallery injects life to The Magazine, a former 1805 gunpowder store, located seven minutes’ walk from the Serpentine Gallery on the north side of the Serpentine Bridge. With 900 square metres of new gallery, restaurant and social space, the Serpentine’s second space in Kensington Gardens is a new cultural destination in the heart of London. This autumn, the Serpentine presents its unrivalled programme of exhibitions and events across both Galleries and into Kensington Gardens.
In 2010 the Serpentine Gallery won the tender from The Royal Parks to bring the Grade II* listed building into public use for the first time in its 208-year history. The Serpentine Gallery has restored the building to an excellent standard, in partnership with The Royal Parks, renovating and extending it to designs by Zaha Hadid Architects. A light and transparent extension complements rather than competes with the neo-classical architecture of the original building. It is Zaha Hadid Architects’ first permanent structure in central London and continues a relationship which began with the inaugural Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Commission in 2000. The landscape around the new building will be designed and planted by the world- renowned landscape designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd.
The opening exhibition in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery is the first UK exhibition by the young Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas, who is gaining international renown for his dramatic, large-scale sculptural works. At the same time, in the Serpentine Gallery, there is a major retrospective of the work by Italian sculptor Marisa Merz, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery consists of two distinct parts, namely the conversion of a classical 19th century brick structure. The Magazine and a 21st century tensile structure. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is thus – after MAXXI in Rome – the second art space where Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher have created a synthesis of old and new. The Magazine was designed as a Gunpowder Store in 1805. It comprises two raw-brick barrel-vaulted spaces (where the gunpowder was stored) and a lower square-shaped surrounding structure with a frontal colonnade. The building continued to be in military use until 1963. Since then The Royal Parks used the building for storage. The Magazine thus remained underutilised until now. Over time, much amendment and alteration has occurred inside the historic building and its surroundings.
Instrumental to the transformation into a public art gallery was the decision to reinstate the historic arrangement of The Magazine building as a free standing pavilion within an enclosure, whereby the former courtyards would be covered and become internal exhibition spaces. In order to reveal the original central spaces, all non-historic partition walls within the former gunpowder stores were removed. The flat gauged arches over the entrances were reinstated whilst the historic timber gantry crane was maintained. Necessary services and lighting were discreetly integrated as to not interfere with the ‘as found’ quality of the spaces. These vaults are now part of the sequence of gallery spaces.
The surrounding structure has been clarified and rationalised to become a continuous, open sequence of exhibition spaces looping around the two central powder rooms, thus following the simplicity and clarity of Leo von Klenze’s Glyptothek as an early model for a purpose-built gallery. What was a courtyard before, became an interior top-lit gallery space. Longitudinal roof lights deliver natural daylight into the whole gallery sequence surrounding the central vaults and with a fixed louver system they create perfectly lit exhibition spaces. Retractable blinds allow for a complete black-out of the galleries. The continuous sky-light makes the vertical protrusion of the central core of the building (containing the two vaults) legible on the inside. These reconstructions and conversions were designed in collaboration with heritage specialist Liam O’Connor and in consultation with English Heritage and Westminster City Council. In addition to the exhibition spaces the restored and converted Magazine also houses the gallery shop and offices for the Serpentine’s curatorial team.
The extension contains a generous, open social space that we expect to enliven the Serpentine Sackler Gallery as a new cultural and culinary destination. The extension has been designed to complement the calm and solid classical building with a light, transparent, dynamic and distinctly contemporary space of the 21st century. The synthesis of old and new is thus a synthesis of contrasts. The new extension feels ephemeral, like a temporary structure, although it is a fully functional permanent building. It is our first permanent tensile structure and realisation of our current
research into curvelinear structural surfaces. The tailored, glass-fibre woven textile membrane is an integral part of the building’s loadbearing structure. It stretches between and connects a perimeter ring beam and a set of five interior columns that articulate the roof’s highpoints. Instead of using perimeter columns, the edge beam – a twisted ladder truss supported on three points – dips down to the supporting ground in front, in the back, and on the free west side. On the east side this edge beam (and thus the roof of the extension) swings above the parapet of The Magazine. A linear strip of glazing gives the appearance that the roof is hovering above The Magazine without touching. The Magazine’s western exterior brick wall thus becomes an interior wall within the new extension without losing its original function and beauty. This detail is coherent with the overall character of the extension as a ‘light touch’ intervention. The envelope is completed by a curved, frameless glass wall that cantilevers from the ground to reach the edge beam and fabric roof. The interior of the new extension is a bright, open space with light pouring in from all sides and through the five steel columns that open up as light scoops. The anticlastic curvature of the roof animates the space with its sculptural, organic fluidity. The only fixed elements within the space are the kitchen island and a long smooth bar counter that flows along The Magazine’s brick wall. The tables, banquets and chairs are designed as a continuous Voronoi pattern, reminiscent of organic cell structures. Our aim is to create an intense aesthetic experience, an atmosphere that seems to oscillate between being an extension of the delightful beauty of the surrounding nature and of being an alluring invitation into the enigma of contemporary art.
Zaha Hadid DBE founder of Zaha Hadid Architects, was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (considered to be the Nobel Prize of architecture) in 2004 and is internationally known for both her theoretical and academic work. Each of her dynamic and innovative projects builds on over thirty years of revolutionary exploration and research in the interrelated fields of urbanism, architecture and design. Hadid’s interest lies in the rigorous interface between architecture, landscape and geology as her practice integrates natural topography and human-made systems, leading to experimentation with cutting-edge technologies. Such a process often results in unexpected and dynamic architectural forms.
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, will open to the public on Saturday, 28 September 2013.