Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Hyde Park

Zaha Hadid's Serpentine Sackler Gallery swoops into Hyde Park

Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Zaha Hadid Architects’ best buildings use a massive material lightly (think of the flowing concrete curves of Wolfsburg’s Phaeno Science Centre). Its new Serpentine Sackler Gallery, five minutes from the first Serpentine Gallery, best known for its annual architectural pavilion in Hyde Park, does the opposite.

PTFE glass-fibre woven cloth pulled taut over the ringbeam and five rooflight-columns impart a sense of mass that swoops to touch the ground. A thick, fleshy lip of white fibre-­reinforced plastic drops down by the entrance to this restaurant and gathering place, drawing you alongside The Magazine – a 1805, grade II* listed former munitions store – and enfolding you, before the space opens up to columns that scoop in light from the sky.

More addition than extension, the structure rests gently on The Magazine, built amid fears of Napoleonic invasion and disguised by a neo-classical villa facade. The restoration, with Julian Harrap Architects and Liam O’Connor Architects, is lightly done. Strong brick vaults at its centre each have just two tiny square attic windows; and there’s a gantry for shifting gunpowder. The outer edges of the square, once an external courtyard, are lit from above. For such a singular space its shared character with the Serpentine Gallery is remarkable: a wall confronting you as you enter, top lit, with an inner heart ringed by gallery circulation. Even its happily undersized shop echoes the other. 

 

plans
plans

Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas’ installation inhabits the gallery with assurance and mastery. Loose-laid bricks tinkle as visitors walk the floor, a mass of unfired fissured clay coats the outside of the vaults. A collection of vessels, faces, growths and relics fills one of these while the other remains empty.

 

Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas’ installation inhabits the gallery with assurance and mastery. Loose-laid bricks tinkle as visitors walk the floor, a mass of unfired fissured clay coats the outside of the vaults. A collection of vessels, faces, growths and relics fills one of these while the other remains empty.

What is missing is the park landscape. Hedged in and facing a road, the only hope is that the planting will somehow bring it into the little green space the Royal Parks has allowed the site. The ‘in-keeping’ corniced back extension with loos, offices and circulation is key to giving the other spaces room to breathe (although a bulky kitchen does intrude into the restaurant). Should the design make more of the relationship between the two buildings? Maybe, in other hands, but with Hadid the disconnect between the old and new gives both a greater sense of integrity and each easily stands alone as a monument to its time.

IN NUMBERS

£14.5m
build cost

1,566m2
cost/m2 by gross internal floor area

3,414m2
site area