Ai Weiwei self portrait
© Ai Weiwei Ai Weiwei self portrait

Chinese artist and architect Ai Weiwei, who helped design the 12th installation of the Serpentine Pavilion, wasn’t allowed to go to the press launch in London, so he videoed into the event instead. 

A political activist, Weiwei has been under house arrest for the past year for provoking Communist Party leaders by calling attention to several hot-button issues in the country. But Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron were determined to work with Weiwei on the pavilion’s design.

Communicating over Skype, the architects developed the plans for the half-buried pavilion, which they call “an archeological excavation of previous pavilions.” Perhaps the plan was once meant to be a literal excavation, Coline Milliard says in Artinfo UK, but the end-product was mostly symbolic.

Sitting in the irregular steps that compose the structure's interior, visitors are invited to reflect upon the history of the place—the history of the pavilions, but perhaps also the history of Kensington Gardens, and of London as a whole, which stands, like all megalopolises, as a thick palimpsest of constructions and experiences.

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, an annually commissioned design project since 2000, boosts several renowned architects including Peter Zumthor, Jean Nouvel, and Frank Gehry, Milliard writes. And this year three more were added to the list.

Hopefully Ai Weiwei will get to see his design in person one day.