Serpentine Pavilion 2022

United Kingdom

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As technical advisor, our role is to bridge the gap between client, architect and artist, developing the design whilst maintaining the balance between a prescriptive technical brief and evolving architectural intent.

This year’s Pavilion has been designed by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, with the architectural support of Adjaye Associates and we have provided the full range of engineering, technical advisory and project management services. It becomes the ninth Pavilion project we have delivered for the Serpentine Galleries in London, and are celebrating ten years as the Gallery’s technical advisor across all its exhibitions and estate developments.

Working closely with the design team, Serpentine Galleries, the project’s contractor Stage One and technical advisor David Glover, we have realised Theaster’s vision for Black Chapel, which draws inspiration from the architectural typologies of chapels and the great kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, England. The structure’s circularity and volume echo the form of a sacred space or chapel that protects and gathers.

The fixed budget and extremely short programme of the project, with design, planning approval, manufacture and construction achieved in less than 22 weeks, has always driven spontaneity, innovation and creativity. Balancing the ability of the architect and artist to freely express their vision with practical cost, buildability, time and functional constraints, as well as the restrictions of working within the Royal Parks, is a key challenge that the team embraces each year.

The Pavilion has always been a vehicle for research and experimentation. This year the structural design takes domestic timber technology, using lightweight MiTek posi-joists and a plywood stressed skin, to new heights in a fully exposed cylindrical structure. The spoke-wheel roof that creates the feature oculus uses a timber-steel hybrid structure, with fabricated steelwork used only where we required its additional strength and stiffness. The result is an extremely lightweight superstructure with minimal foundations that are weighed down using site-won ballast.

At over 10 metres tall the Pavilion is the largest to date, and delivering its sheer scale was a key aspect of achieving Theaster Gates’ vision. Collaborating with the architect and the contractor, Stage One, our structural engineers used parametric modelling to optimise the volume of the internal space against the material use, embodied carbon, constructability and overall budget.

The structure is highly repetitive, allowing the team to focus on a small number of critical details and minimising material use, the majority of the stressed skin being just 9mm thick. The modular build, prefabricated in Stage One’s facility in York, adopts standard sizes for the timber panels in order to minimise waste.  Any residual waste timber is chipped and used in Stage One’s efficient biomass system that heats their buildings, meaning no waste needs to be transported away from the fabrication site.

The Pavilion has been assessed from an embodied carbon perspective throughout the design period. The team has also worked with Grace Farms Foundation, who have audited the materials sourced for the Pavilion to ensure they are ethically sourced from sustainable supply chains.

The entire superstructure, including the timber-framed walls, roof and suspended floor, along with its small precast, low-cement pad foundations, is fully demountable using simple bolts and screws, and the structure’s rubber waterproofing membrane can be easily separated from the timber frame and reused or recycled. This approach results in a very low upfront carbon footprint for the build and allows the Pavilion to be completely rebuilt in a new location after its first life in Kensington Gardens.

Like previous Pavilions that have successfully relocated in the UK and overseas, this commitment to the future repurposing of the 2022 Pavilion ensures the structure will be reused despite the temporary nature of the initial installation.

Located in Kensington Gardens, the project is not permitted to install any permanent foundations or intrusion in the ground in the form of piles or anchors and the lawn must be returned to its virgin state after the Pavilion has been removed. However, permanent electrical and water infrastructure has been installed along with below-ground rainwater attenuation and connection to adjacent soakaways. These features are reused each year, and the ground works are designed to balance the cut and fill volumes.


Serpentine Pavilion 2022 designed by Theaster Gates © Theaster Gates Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy: Serpentine.

Serpentine Pavilion 2022 designed by Theaster Gates © Theaster Gates Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy: Serpentine.



Serpentine Pavilion 2022 designed by Theaster Gates © Theaster Gates Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy: Serpentine.