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Mirror Image: SANAA Transforms the Serpentine

Kensington Gardens more resembles a Japanese fantasy world these days, due in part to the new installation in the Serpentine Gallery pavilion.

Kensington Gardens more resembles a Japanese fantasy world these days, due in part to the new installation in the Serpentine Gallery pavilion.

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA in Tokyo — the same architectural firm that designed the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan — created the sparkling aluminum and stainless steel canopy that floats like smoke through the grass and trees in Hyde Park. “We wanted a space where visitors could enjoy in their own way, and where kids could run around,” says Nishizawa. “Now we’re curious to see how people actually use it.” The structure, which spans about 6,000 square feet, houses a cafe and lecture space and is open to the gardens on all sides.

“Sejima and Nishizawa’s design is our dream come true,” says Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones, who runs the pavilion program with Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of international projects. “[Their] pioneering buildings have created an architecture that marries aesthetic simplicity with technical complexity, defining a new architectural language that plays with light and perception.”

Since 2000, curators have been commissioning original designs by architects who have never before worked in the U.K. Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer, Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry are among the artists who’ve transformed past pavilions, which are displayed from July to October and then sold for approximately 40 percent of the cost.

The turnaround time for these projects is sharp: chosen architects have fewer than six months to execute the project — a nanosecond compared with the years it takes for most works of this scale to come to life.

“You have to work in a different way,” says Nishizawa. “It was a challenge to do it quickly. It never really felt like fun, until it was completed.”

In addition to New York’s New Museum, SANAA has collaborated with companies including Christian Dior and Prada on retail spaces, and is working on a satellite of the Louvre museum in Lens, France, a social housing project in Paris, and the Neruda Tower in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Now that they’ve made their big U.K. debut, Sejima and Nishizawa would love to pick up some work in the U.S. “There are no commissions yet. But we’re ready and waiting,” says Nishizawa.

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