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Above image: José Selgas and Lucía Cano of SelgasCano
Celebrating the 15th anniversary of their acclaimed Pavilion commission in 2015, London’s Serpentine Galleries (the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery) have just announced who will be designing the temporary installation for what is now regarded as one of the top 10 most visited architectural and design exhibitions in the world.
A first for any Spanish architecture practice, SelgasCano, led by José Selgas and Lucía Cano, has been awarded the prestigious position and, in keeping with the exhibition’s selection criteria, it will be the studio’s first new design in the UK.
The eponymous gallery, with buildings on either side of The Serpentine lake in the heart of the Royal Park of Kensington Gardens, has been host to a diverse range of commissions for the past 15 years, including: Sou Fujimoto, 2013; Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, 2012; Frank Gehry, 2008; Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond, with Arup, 2006; Oscar Niemeyer, 2003; Daniel Libeskind with Arup, 2001; and Zaha Hadid, who designed the inaugural Pavilion in 2000.
“This is an amazing and unique opportunity to work in a Royal Garden in the centre of London,” says Selgas. “Both aspects, ‘garden’ and ‘London’, are very important for us in the development of this project.”
Formed in Madrid in 1998, SelgasCano has completed the majority of its buildings in Spain, but has developed an international reputation following exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, as well as MOT, Tokyo and the Design Museum, London.
Few hints have been given as to the studio’s designs, set to be released in February. Previous projects like the amorphous Plasencia Auditorium and Congress Centre, Cáceres; the light filled El ‘B’, Cartagena Auditorium and Congress Centre; and the playful Factory Mérida all highlight SelgasCano’s inclination towards the definitive use of colour and form via synthetic materials. However, José Selgas has suggested a possible deviation from these trends.
“‘Garden’ and ‘London’… will be the elements to show and develop in the Pavilion,” Selgas hints. “For that we are going to use only one material as a canvas for both: transparency. That ‘material’ has to be explored in all its structural possibilities, avoiding any other secondary material that supports it, and the most advanced technologies will be needed to be employed to accomplish that transparency. A good definition for the pavilion can be taken from J M Barrie: it aims to be as a ‘Betwixt-and-Between’.”
Taking inspiration from one of England’s most beloved authors, a sense of the unreal may be established alongside a deciduous, yet linked tie between the design itself and its natural surrounds. What remains to be seen is whether SelgasCano can establish itself apart from the ephemerality of Sou Fujumito’s 2013 installation and bring its own valid interpretation of ‘transparency’ to such a highly regarded exhibition.
Despite the challenge, few doubts remain that the 15th anniversary will prove to be one of the most interesting exhibitions the gallery has hosted yet. “SelgasCano are architects for our time who offer a tantalising vision of the future,” says Serpentine Galleries director, Julia Peyton-Jones. “Their innovative use of materials, bold application of colour, informed by playfulness and a passion for nature ensures that next summer’s Pavilion will be very exciting.”