Gehry Goes to London

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Serpentine Pavilion, Frank Gehry, 2008 /PHOTOS: LACAYO

I thought I’d make this mostly a picture day. Every summer since 2000 London’s Serpentine Gallery, which is located in Kensington Gardens, asks a prominent architect who has not yet built in England to design a temporary pavilion for a site adjacent to the Gallery. Quite a few major names have gotten their first Engish commission through this project — Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas, Alvaro Siza. And even now Hadid, Koolhaas and Ito have never worked in England again. I don’t think Siza has either, though Hadid has a building coming up for the London Olympics. The Brits are still kind of touchy about new architecture.

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I was surprised to realize this summer that Frank Gehry, too, has never worked in England. He’s done work in Dundee, Scotland — a small cancer care center — but never so far in England, though that will change if they ever actually build a luxury apartment complex that he designed for the city of Brighton. His pavilion went up in July and it comes down this month. So while I was over in London a few weeks ago I swung by to take a look.

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In effect, what Gehry has done, in collaboration with the engineers Cecil Belmond and Arup, is create a giant outdoor lounge. (He calls it a “street”.) A pair of terraced seating areas face each other under a canopy made of glass, steel and wood in a kind of fragmented ice floe design.

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It all works nicely enough, but it struck me that the pavilion didn’t represent a new turn in Gehry’s thinking so much as it introduced to London the angular disjunctions that have been a feature of his work going back to the late ’70s.

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But for the English, hey, that’s new.

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