Serpentine Pavilion: A Space for New Possibilities

The 23rd Serpentine Pavilion, Archipelagic Void, designed by Seoul-based Korean architect Minsuk Cho and his firm Mass Studies was opened on June 7, 2024, with Goldman Sachs supporting the annual project for the 10th consecutive year.

Archipelagic Void comprises of five ‘islands’, each structure unique in size, form, name and purpose, providing a dedicated platform for Serpentine’s live programme from June onwards. The pavilion is Minsuk Cho’s first building in the UK and is the 23rd Serpentine Pavilion, each one designed by star architects of that particular time. 

The Structure

Archipelagic Void is composed of a unique void in the centre surrounded by a series of smaller, adaptable structures located at its periphery. The layout references the madang or an open courtyard found in traditional Korean houses.

Around the void, each structure of this multifaceted Serpentine Pavilion is envisioned as a “content machine” with a distinct name and purpose, including the Gallery, the Library, the Auditorium, the Tea House and the Play Tower. Assembled, the parts become ten spaces surrounding the void: creating five distinct covered spaces and five open, in-between areas that integrate with the surrounding park and Pavilion activities.

“We understand architecture itself is not a beginning-to-end narrative, but is part of a larger act that is in between many befores and afters” said Minsuk Cho who took inspiration from Korean houses especially in the usage of voids and connecting spaces within the Serpentine Pavilion.

The Programme

As the main entrance to the Pavilion, the Gallery will play host to a six-channel sound installation created by musician and composer Jang Young-Gyu, presenting The Willow presenting The Willow is <버들은> in the Summer and Moonlight <월정명> in the Autumn. Taking inspiration from the surrounding environment of the Serpentine Pavilion, Jang incorporates sounds from nature and human activities recorded in Kensington Gardens with traditional Korean vocal music and instruments.

Located to the north of the Pavilion is The Library of Unread Books by artist Heman Chong and archivist Renée Staal. Conceived as an artwork that functions as a ‘living’ reference library, each book has been donated by its previous owner to form a pool of common knowledge. Visitors will contribute and submit an unread book in their possession to the growing collection. By making these titles accessible, The Library of Unread Books will function as a collective gesture, addressing notions of access and distribution.

In a nod to the history of the Serpentine building, the Tea House will be located to the east of the Pavilion. Designed by James Grey West, the Serpentine South building opened in 1934 and originally functioned as a teahouse until the early 1960s, before reopening as an art gallery in 1970.

To the west, is the Auditorium, the largest structure of the five ‘islands’. With benches built into its inner walls, the space allows for public gatherings and will feature a programme of performances and talks.

Built primarily from timber, the Archipelagic Void is designed to adapt to the site’s gentle slope. The individual roofs’ curving edges are connected by a steel ring, forming a central oculus that lets in natural light. Radiating from this circular void, the pavilion’s islands serve as nodes in the lawn, connecting to the Serpentine Gallery.

Providing a space for outdoor play, the Serpentine Pavilion also features the Play Tower, a pyramid structure fitted with a bright orange net scape allowing visitors to climb and interact.

The Serpentine Pavilion 2024 will also become a platform for Serpentine’s Park Nights, the annual interdisciplinary platform for live encounters in music, poetry, performance, and dance that will see artists create brand new site-specific works.

According to the architect, Cho, “We are honoured and grateful to unveil Archipelagic Void. To realise the Pavilion, we began by asking what can be uncovered and added to the Serpentine site, which has already featured over 20 historical iterations at the centre of the lawn, from a roster of great architects and artists.”

“By inverting the centre as a void, we shift our architectural focus away from the built centre of the past, facilitating new possibilities and narratives.” says Minsuk Cho.

Cho says, “To approach this new chapter differently, instead of viewing it as a carte blanche, we embraced the challenge of considering the many existing peripheral elements while exploring the centre as a void.

“It also begins to address the history of the Serpentine Pavilion. By inverting the centre as a void, we shift our architectural focus away from the built centre of the past, facilitating new possibilities and narratives.”