A slender wooden parasol will unfold in London’s Kensington Gardens next summer, its radial ribs supporting an expansive, low canopy beneath the trees. This is the elegant vision of Lina Ghotmeh, the Lebanese-born, Paris-based architect announced as the designer of the 22nd annual Serpentine Gallery pavilion.
“It’s a bit Mary Poppins,” Ghotmeh said from her studio in Paris. “I wanted to create an open, inviting shelter, a place to sit and eat and talk together in nature, and rethink our relationship with each other and the living world.”
Titled A table – the French call to sit together to eat – the pavilion will have a ring of tables and benches arranged around the center of the space, designed for public meetings and discussions, or simply for park-goers to come and sit, read , eat or work. “It should feel like the kind of place where you can have a conversation with someone sitting not far from you,” Ghotmeh said. “It is a modest, low space where you can feel close to the earth.”
The wooden umbrella of nine pleated “leaves” will be supported on a colonnade of laminated wooden columns, forming a sheltered walkway around the edge of the pavilion, separated from the interior space by translucent glass screens. Each side of the flower-shaped structure will curve slightly inward, in a reverent nod to the location of the surrounding trees’ roots, providing a subtle, shape-shifting geometry as you walk around the building.
Radial wooden ribs will extend across the ceiling from a central oculus, like the gills of a mushroom, supporting a wafer-thin plywood roof, braced with rows of v-shaped ridges (and, unlike last summer’s open-to- elements) design, the oculus will be covered with a tensile membrane crown to keep out the rain). The skeletal structure and austere, stripped-down design suggest the feel of a fabric tent or a folded paper model, touching the ground as softly as possible – a departure from some recent years’ sturdy constructions and their substantial concrete foundations.
“I’m trying to make the carbon footprint as low as possible,” Ghotmeh said, explaining how she plans to use a new type of low-carbon recycled glass developed by Saint-Gobain and design the structure with bolted connections for easy disassembly. The timber will be LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber), which uses less material than bulkier cross-laminated timber, creating the slimmest possible columns and beams.
Ghotmeh says the design was informed by research into the history of community gathering places and sites of collective ritual, ranging from Stonehenge to the toguna huts of the Dogon people in Mali, West Africa. The toguna – meaning “big shelter” – usually occupies the center of a village, providing a place for the community to come together to make decisions, mediate conflicts and dispense justice. Their low-level roofs are designed to force people to sit rather than stand, helping to avoid violence when conversations get heated. The Serpentine’s artistic debates can no doubt get heated, but Ghotmeh’s structure is designed more with accessibility in mind, its ceiling varying from a comfortable two-and-a-half to three metres.
The selection of Ghotmeh continues the Serpentine’s welcome run of widening the net and highlighting younger, lesser-known names. Born in Beirut in 1980, where she grew up in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, Ghotmeh studied architecture at the American University of Beirut and the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. She worked with Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster in London, and got her big break in 2005, when she won an international competition, along with two others, for the new Estonian National Museum, which led to them being DGT Architects in Paris founded and realized the building to wide critical acclaim.
Ghotmeh established her own studio in 2016 and gained international recognition with the completion of the otherworldly Stone Garden apartment building in Beirut in 2020, which was exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale last year. The rough concrete facades, which stand like a great geological outcrop, are riddled with deep openings, echoing the bullet holes of the war-torn city, and with horizontal streaks, combed into the surface by hand as the concrete was setting. harden. It looks like a gigantic piece of sedimentary rock, chiseled into a habitable cliff, with lush bursts of greenery now spilling from its openings.
Ghotmeh will soon complete a new leather workshop for the French fashion house Hermès, designed as a series of interlocking walls of low brick arches around a pair of courtyards. It seems poised to create a similar ethereal world of framed views, delicate enclosure and closeness to nature that we can hope to experience in next summer’s pavilion – a supercalifragilistic canopy, ready to float away on the breeze.