By David Jen
Designed by Lebanese-born, Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh, the table-themed pavilion titled “À table” — a French call to come together at the table — features in its interior a concentric perimeter table surrounded by a ring of wooden posts evocative of the landscape’s surrounding trees. Its links to the environment continue through a palm-leaf-inspired, suspended pleated roof and its use of bio-sourced, low-carbon materials.
The structure provides “a space for people to simply enjoy, stroll, and meet while discussing on the difficulties of today to spur the necessary change,” says Ghotmeh in written press material provided by Serpentine. “The pavilion rises as a wooden structure in keeping with the natural surroundings, inviting us to sit around exquisitely crafted stools and tables and take in the surroundings.”
The annual project’s budget and time constraints challenged project engineers from AECOM in their effort to minimize embodied carbon — a challenge which the team embraced, says Jon Leach, a director at AECOM.
“The design optimization process has minimized the material use and allowed every piece of the structure to contribute to the delicate architectural form,” says Leach. “The result is an extremely lightweight superstructure with minimal foundations that are weighed down using site-won ballast.”
Slender plywood ribs support the lightweight plywood canopy, and the structure uses steel flitching to restrain the glulam rafters only where needed, he continues. “The glulam columns work in tandem with the delicate fretwork wall panels to stabilize the structure without the need for any additional bracing.”
In addition to the structure, Ghotmeh designed, in collaboration with London-based homeware store The Conran Shop, the set of dark-red, oak tables and stools found inside the pavilion. She also contributed a summer teahouse menu in collaboration with British catering company Benugo as part of the project.
The Pavilion Commission, conceived by architect Zaha Hadid with former Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones, has invited emerging architects to create their first built structure in England every year since 2000, except in 2020, when the Pavilion was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The aim of our Pavilion Commission is to choose architects who consistently extend the boundaries of contemporary architectural practice and to introduce these practitioners to wider audiences,” writes the Serpentine website. The resulting structures have offered summer seating and a cafe to patrons of the Serpentine South building, which was originally designed as a teahouse by James Grey West in 1934 before becoming an art gallery in 1970.
Serpentine South, along with its counterpart gallery across the whale-shaped, 40-acre lake known as The Serpentine, has provided visitors free access to exhibitions, architecture, education, live events, and technological innovation since the 1970s, according to the Serpentine website.
For 2023, Ghotmeh’s modest, low-roof design drew inspiration from Mali’s Dogon people in West Africa, whose villages invariably include togunas — open, thatched-roof structures supported by wooden posts used for community gatherings and discussions. Togunas symbolize the Dogon culture’s values of secrecy, community, and shelter.
“Here (in the Pavilion) we can eat, work, play, meet, talk, rethink, and decide,” writes Ghotmeh.
Serpentine tapped Stage One, a York, England-based manufacturer of experimental architecture, for the 14th consecutive year to build this year’s pavilion.
Tim Leigh, Stage One managing director, says in press material, “The innovative design by Lina Ghotmeh complements our desire to use more sustainable materials while also advancing our expertise in mass timber building. Additionally, we have used precast concrete pads for the second year in a row, which lowers the total amount of carbon embodied in the project.”
Ghotmeh’s other projects include the Estonian National Museum, the Stone Garden gallery in Beirut, the Wonderlab exhibition in Tokyo and Beijing, and Les Grands Verres in Paris.
While À table will remain on display at Serpentine through October, Ghotmeh designed the structure to be disassembled and reassembled elsewhere as a permanent home, “allowing it to live beyond the Serpentine site while holding the memory of its original ground.”
This article was published by Civil Engineering Online.