Essential Architecture-  London

Food Theater Cafe (temporary pavilion) Serpentine Pavilion 2001


Daniel Libeskind Engineers Arup Associates


On the Serpentine, Hyde Park









‘The concept was based on wrapping in space....’

Regarded by some as a precursor to the eagerly anticipated Victoria & Albert Museum spiral extension (London, UK), the second temporary pavilion commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery, and designed by the team responsible for the V&A Spiral, opened in June 2001.

On receiving the commission, architect Daniel Libeskind immediately contacted Arup’s Cecil Balmond, his co-designer and collaborator on the V&A to discuss how the Serpentine project could be interpreted and realised in the short time available to them. The concept was based on wrapping in space, which is also the founding idea for the V&A extension. 

Within a week of talks the team agreed that the structure would be a series of spiralling interlocking planes, a solution which provided a flexible and dynamic response to the site. They also agreed that the structure would be built and clad with aluminium, the sheeting was only 1mm thick, fixed onto structural framing patterns in each plane that emphasised the inclinations and dynamic nature of the spatial concept. In this instance architecture and structure became one.

Serpentine Pavilion 2001, UK

We had to find a fabricator as soon as possible so project engineer Charles Walker contacted one of his sources, Sheetfabs in Nottingham. The engineers sent the first simple concept drawings to Sheetfabs, and they agreed to take on the project. 

Bespoke extruded aluminium was also required for the structure and Hydro Aluminium, was able to help at short notice. So tight were the deadlines that the aluminium extrusion took place at great haste, then shipped from Norway to Newcastle within a week in order for the project to continue on time. 

We supplied 'unfolded' 2-D drawings for the fabricators to make their components. 3-D modelling and Arup structural analysis software (GSA), were continually used by the engineers to keep track of modifications of design, and ensured that the fluid relationship between Arup and Sheetfabs was maintained under the rigid time constraints, as they worked in parallel with each other during fabrication stages.

The floor of the pavilion was laid by 21st May. The aluminium panels were on site by 4th June and the entire structure finished by 9th June 2001.