Q&A: Ellie Manwell

Words:
Jan-Carlos Kucharek

The Serpentine Gallery’s summer pavilion, long the doyen of London’s social scene, has a rookie rival supplied by Dulwich Picture Gallery. Ellie Manwell, its head of audience development, says its new pavilion, opening in June in the shadow of Soane’s architecture, deserves its day in the sun

IF_DO's pavilion of timber, mesh and mirrored panels in front of the Soane-designed Dulwich Picture Gallery.
IF_DO's pavilion of timber, mesh and mirrored panels in front of the Soane-designed Dulwich Picture Gallery. Credit: Forbes Massie

Why a pavilion, and why now?

This June marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Soane’s design for the building was highly innovative then and all about how the architecture was intrinsic to the viewing of the art inside it. We wanted to apply that same thinking to what architecture might be able to do now for contemporary audiences with different needs.

And how did you bring the programme about?

That way of thinking about problems differently tends to come from young practices, so with this pavilion commission, we wanted to support emerging architects who were keen to do more with less. We teamed up with the London Festival of Architecture to run the competition. Our main sponsor for the project is Almacantar which has enabled the scheme – it wouldn’t have been possible at all without them.

And how much is it going to cost?

I can’t really say, but it is going to be a lot less than certain pavilions we might mention! But we imagine it will be a six-figure sum to build it. The sponsorship is going to fund a summer programme of talks and events, including our Friday Night Lates, when the Picture Gallery will be free to enter. The contest was won by young practice IF_DO, and come the end of the summer we will be looking into either selling the pavilion or transferring it to a community site or school. But that’s still up in the air.

And what attracted the judges to firm IF_DO’s proposal?

The LFA’s theme this year was ‘Memory’, which seemed quite apt, given our wish to use Soane’s gallery as inspiration. We felt that IF_DO really addressed the brief, creating a sensitive, contextual timber structure of moveable, mirrored panels that reflected the gallery and its siting. There was something elegant and poetic about it. And with its choice of materials like timber and mesh we felt the firm really had a grasp of the budget.

So what happens now?

Now? The pavilion is already well under construction! But a lot of it is being prefabricated offsite and brought in. Construction started in the last week of April and it should take five weeks. The public opening is going to be on 2 June – we can hardly wait! 


 

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