An ‘aesthetically driven gallery space’

Monday 30 Sep 2013

Zaha Hadid's Serpentine Sackler Gallery opens in London to mixed reviews

This weekend saw the public opening of Zaha Hadid’s latest completed scheme for the Serpentine Gallery, thirteen years after she helped launch the annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion series with the institution’s first commission. On Saturday 28 September, the crowds thronged to Kensington Gardens to witness the sculptural architect’s newest addition to the revered Serpentine Gallery, in collaboration with engineers Arup and chief project managers RISE.

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is the result of a £14.5m project which has transformed a 208-year-old Grade II* listed building into an art gallery, restaurant and meeting space. The Magazine was constructed in 1805 as a munitions store for gunpowder during the Napoleonic wars and has since been used for military parades and as home to the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. With the opening of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, The Magazine is now open to the public for the first time.

Located approximately 5 minutes walk from the main Serpentine Gallery, The Magazine now benefits from a predictably fluid addition from Zaha Hadid Architects. The ‘aesthetically driven gallery space’ is described thus by its architects: “The extension contains a generous, open social space that we expect to enliven the Serpentine Sackler Gallery as a new cultural and culinary destination.

“The extension has been designed to complement the calm and solid classical building with a light, transparent, dynamic and distinctly contemporary space of the 21st century. The synthesis of old and new is thus a synthesis of contrasts. The new extension feels ephemeral, like a temporary structure, although it is a fully functional permanent building.”

Despite claims from Zaha Hadid Architects that the new structure ‘complements rather than competes with the neo-classical architecture of the original building’, not all agree with the final outcome. Rowan Moore’s review for The Observer on Sunday considers that ‘the curves, ideally fluent, sometimes grind and stutter round corners, and if the structure is intended to float, to touch the ground lightly, it rather labours and heaves’; while The Telegraph’s Ellis Woodman opens his article with the consideration, ‘As an addition to a historic building of some quality, it is hard to see Zaha Hadid’s new structure as anything other than aggressive and banal’.

Embraced within the drooping folds of white that make up the undulating roofscape of the extension are restaurant and entertainment spaces, both open to the public but available for hire for private functions. The only fixed elements within this volume are the kitchen island and a long bar counter than runs parallel with the original Magazine wall, once an external wall and now a refined interior feature.  

This recognisable roof is made up of three layers for strength and durability: the first a structural outer membrane of PTFE coated glass fibre; insulated and fire-resistant interlayers; and a stretched fabric ceiling membrane. The edge beam of this pure white multi-layered structure swoops down to touch the ground at three points for structural stability rather than relying on perimeter columns. The external envelope is completed with a continuous, curved and frameless glass wall for views out onto Kensington Gardens.

Ed Clark, Project Director at Arup, explains: “The project has presented a number of key challenges across all engineering disciplines both in terms of the sensitive restoration of the existing building and the design of the new extension. Structurally, innovating and pushing the boundaries of fabric roof geometry. The apparent simplicity of the building belies the attention to detail and thought that has been given to every design choice and decision. The refinement of the completed project is a testament to the ambition of the Client and the determination of the whole project team.”

Key Facts:

Civic Buildings
United Kingdom

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