Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by Francis Kéré. Serpentine Gallery, London (23 June – 8 October 2017) © Kéré Architecture. Image © Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by Francis Kéré. Serpentine Gallery, London (23 June – 8 October 2017) © Kéré Architecture. Image © Iwan Baan

The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré (Kéré Architecture), was unveiled today in London. Conceived as a micro cosmos—“a community structure within Kensington Gardens”—the pavilion has been designed to consciously fuse cultural references from Kéré’s home town of Gando in Burkino Faso, with “experimental construction techniques.” The architect hopes that the pavilion, as a social condenser, “will become a beacon of light, a symbol of storytelling and togetherness.”

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A large wooden roof, supported by a concealed steel frame, has been sculpted to mimic the canopy of a tree. Four thresholds lead into a central open courtyard, in which fresh air can circulate freely. The roof, while sheltering visitors from London’s summer heat (and, fortunately, from summer rain) can, in case of rain, funnel water toward an oculus “that collects on the roof into a spectacular waterfall,” before being passed through a drainage system in the floor “for later use in irrigating the nearby parkland.”

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In Burkina Faso, the tree is a place where people gather together, where everyday activities play out under the shade of its branches. My design for the Serpentine Pavilion has a great overhanging roof canopy made of steel with a transparent skin covering the structure, which allows sunlight to enter the space while also protecting it from the rain. Wooden shading elements line the underside of the roof to create a dynamic shadow effect on the interior spaces. This combination of features promotes a sense of freedom and community; like the shade of the tree branches, the Pavilion becomes a place where people can gather and share their daily experiences. 

Fundamental to my architecture is a sense of openness. In the Pavilion this is achieved by the wall system, which is comprised of prefabricated wooden blocks assembled into triangular modules with slight gaps, or apertures, between them. This gives a lightness and transparency to the building enclosure. The composition of the curved walls is split into four elements, creating four different access points to the Pavilion. Detached from the roof canopy, these elements allow air to circulate freely throughout.

At the centre of the Pavilion is a large opening in the canopy, creating an immediate connection to nature. In times of rain, the roof becomes a funnel channelling water into the heart of the structure. This rain collection acts symbolically, highlighting water as a fundamental resource for human survival and prosperity.

In the evening, the canopy becomes a source of illumination. Wall perforations will give glimpses of movement and activity inside the Pavilion to those outside. In my home village of Gando, it is always easy to locate a celebration at night by climbing to higher ground and searching for the source of light in the surrounding darkness. This small light becomes larger as more and more people arrive to join the event. In this way the Pavilion will become a beacon of light, a symbol of storytelling and togetherness. 

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Francis Kéré to Design 2017 Serpentine Pavilion

The Serpentine Galleries have announced that the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion will be designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré ( Kéré Architecture), an African architect based between Berlin, Germany, and his home town of Gando in Burkino Faso.