Saturday, July 25th 2015
We thought we would take a look at this year’s episode of what has become an annual event in London. You might regard it as an art event, as it is sponsored by an art gallery, or you might consider it an exhibition of architecture by a single contributor, given that it is a building designed by architects. Perhaps we might see it as art and architecture combined.
We took a bus to Kensington Road and entered Hyde Park by the Alexandra Gate. Beside the gate is a small building set in a well tended garden. It was built some time in the early to mid 19th century and served the purpose of the gate lodge. Did a uniformed servant once stay here, supervising the coming and goings through the gate? If so, that is no longer the case. I don’t know what purpose the Grade II listed building serves today, perhaps just that of a glorified garden shed. Would it be possible to live here? Probably not, but the thought is intriguing.
The lodge is surrounded by beautiful flowers and where there are flowers, what do you also find? Well, yes, various species of insects but, with any luck, bees. The decline in the bee population is a cause for concern so the sight of a number of bumblebees busily collecting pollen was reassuring. We spent some time trying to photograph them. This is difficult because they flit about so fast, in and out, under and behind the flowers, that it is nearly impossible to capture their image.
Bumblebees are favourites of mine. Once, when I was a child, I found myself wondering what their fur felt like. So I stretched out a finger and stroked a bumblebee. The bee didn’t seem to mind but ignored me and went on working. I still stroke the occasional bumblebee if it stays still long enough.
What from the air looks like a roughly rectangular park is actually two parks, divided by the road called West Carriage Drive which runs from Alexandra Gate in the south and crosses the Serpentine lake by a bridge. On the right (east) of this road is Hyde Park and on the left, Kensington Gardens. The lake runs across both parks and is usually known as the Serpentine (even if its gentle curves hardly merit that name) though, in fact, it is only the Serpentine on the east side of the bridge, becoming the Long Water on the west side. I mention this because the art gallery in Kensington Gardens is called the Serpentine Gallery when, strictly speaking, it’s on the wrong side to be called that!
From the road, you get a slightly distant view of the Albert Memorial, the symbol of a Queen’s grief at the loss of her beloved consort. Depending on your taste, you will find the monument either splendid or over-elaborate. I admire it and consider it one of London’s treasures.
Continuing along the road, we gained our first view of what we had come to see. It appeared as a colourful giant sausage or perhaps a collection of inflated gaudily coloured plastic bags.
Coming closer, more details are visible but it is hard to discern a coherent plan. The structure looks like a collection of separate bits, each with its own quirky design. It is certain colourful, much of the skin being made out of iridescent plastic that changes hue bewilderingly as you look at it. An important feature of this is the way the colours shift and change, something that a photograph cannot adequately show. It turns out that the parts are all connected and you can walk through from one end to the other. The interior is divided into sections, which are quasi rooms or halls, and there is seating and a cafe.
As mentioned, there is a pavilion every year and this is the 15th in the series. The pavilions are designed by leading architects and built under the auspices of the Serpentine Gallery. The architects chosen for the project have a limited time in which to design and erect their creation. A succinct description of the project as a whole and of this pavilion appears on a board beside it. This gives you a good introduction to the subject and I reproduce it pictorially here.
Below, without captions, are more pictures of the pavilion, inside and out.
As a novelty or an experiment in design, I found the pavilion ‘interesting’. I cannot imagine buildings of this sort finding a permanent place in our environment. The architects possibly perceived some design in it but I did not. It looked like a lot of separate bits individually thrown together with a ‘Right where shall we put this one?’ If the London Underground really was an inspiration for this, then I think the design of the Underground, labyrinthine as it is in places, gives one a more purposeful sense than this structure does. A fun venue for a summer party, perhaps, but not much more than that.
We took a last look around at the park and then started back the way we had come.
Opposite Alexandra Gate is Exhibition Road. This takes us, as the name suggests, into the museum quarter. Here we have the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, various institutes and, for good measure, the Royal Albert Hall.
Controversially, Exhibition Road is one of a new breed of roads called ‘Shared Space’, invented by some genius who thinks that motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians can all use the same surface without conflict or accident. They will no doubt go on thinking that until the number of fatal collisions causes a rethink.
Slotted awkwardly into a quarter in which academic and intellectual prowess is celebrated, we find the South Kensington representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known more familiarly as the Mormons. It seems quite out of place here somehow.
My last photo was of this charming street called Thurloe Place Mews. It seems a very pleasant and picturesque place to live, right in the heart of London.