Junya Ishigami's Serpentine Pavilion Opens

John Hill
19. June 2019
Serpentine Pavilion 2019 Designed by Junya Ishigami, Serpentine Gallery, London (21 June – 6 October 2019), © Junya Ishigami + Associates, Photography © 2019 Iwan Baan

Although beset by controversy over Junya Ishigami's open desk policy as well as by UK building relations, the Japanese architect's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is set to open to the public on Friday, June 21, in London's Kensington Gardens.

Unveiled in February as a undulating slate canopy propped up on slender stilts, Ishigami's design stayed true to his "free space" intentions. Well, to a degree, at least. As Oliver Wainwright points out at the Guardian, additional columns were added, as were polycarbonate partitions following from wind analysis from AECOM, the engineers that Ishigami worked with on the project. The partitions effectively destroyed the free-flowing space beneath the slate roof.

Serpentine Pavilion 2019 Designed by Junya Ishigami, Serpentine Gallery, London (21 June – 6 October 2019), © Junya Ishigami + Associates, Photography © 2019 Iwan Baan

The official Serpentine Pavilion photos by Iwan Baan play down the role of the polycarbonate partitions and emphasize the compressed, cave-like space beneath the roof made from 67 tons of Cumbrian slate. Outside, the billowing surface is equally impressive and primordial, like a rock formation from certain angles or a contemporary variation on traditional slate roofs from other angles. It seems to exist to convince people that the impossible is possible, that a heavy stone surface can be supported by columns so thin.

Serpentine Pavilion 2019 Designed by Junya Ishigami, Serpentine Gallery, London (21 June – 6 October 2019), © Junya Ishigami + Associates, Photography © 2019 Iwan Baan

One month after Ishigami's billowing design was unveiled in February, criticism was levied on the architect's open desk policy: his use of unpaid interns, common in Japan but counter to UK labor policy. On top of no pay, it was reported the interns were subject to a six-day work week, 11-hour days, and had to use their own computers and software. In turn, the Serpentine Gallery responded by basically forcing the interns working on the Serpentine Pavilion in Ishigami's office to be compensated.

Serpentine Pavilion 2019 Designed by Junya Ishigami, Serpentine Gallery, London (21 June – 6 October 2019), © Junya Ishigami + Associates, Photography © 2019 Iwan Baan

If the intern controversy and marginalized design weren't enough, a headline one week before the pavilion's opening made for a triumvirate of turmoil. Yana Peel, CEO of Serpentine Gallery since 2016, stepped down from her position after the Guardian revealed she co-owns "an Israeli cyberweapons company whose software has allegedly been used by authoritarian regimes to spy on dissidents." In this regard, the rocky surface of the pavilion is an apt metaphor for what has beset the Serpentine Gallery this year.

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