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Serpentine Summer House 2016 (Barkow Leibinger)

Barkow Leibinger Architects

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Sara Johnson


Project Status


Year Completed




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Project Description


Queen Caroline's Temple, an eighteenth-century historical 'summer house' attributed to William Kent and situated in the proximity of the Serpentine Gallery, stands—seemingly without purpose—facing a large meadow. A second Pavilion, today extinct, also designed by Kent was situated on a nearby man-made mountain constructed from the dredging of the artificial The Long Water. This small pavilion rotated mechanically 360 degrees at the top of the hill, offering various panoramic views of the park and, reciprocally, different views of itself when seen from the park. It was meant both to be visible in the park and a structure from which to survey its surroundings. The little mountain and house disappeared at some point in history.

With this absent structure in mind, we have designed a Summer House in-the-round. Standing free with all its sides visible, and conceived as a series of undulating structural bands, it is reminiscent of a blind contour drawing (a drawing executed without lifting the pencil up from the paper and only looking at the subject). The logic of generating a structure from loops is a self-generating one and comes from the idea of coiling material in your hands then stacking the coils upon each other. The horizontal banding recalls the layered coursing of Queen Caroline's Temple, despite its idiosyncratic nature.

The new Summer House is organised as four structural bands, beginning with a bench level attached to the ground, on which is a second band of three C-shaped walls crowned by a third and fourth level that forms a cantilevered roof, a tree-like canopy over the smaller footprint defined by the undulating loops of bench wood. The Summer House is constructed from plywood and timber, materials intrinsically in harmony with the looping geometry of the structure.
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