A temporary Pavilion emerges on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, London come summer time every year.

Open for the duration of the summer, the Serpentine Pavilion sees hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, and is a highlight on the cultural calendar of locals and foreign visitors to London. The architect chosen by the Serpentine Gallery to create his or her design is done so on the basis that they have never before created a built structure in England. The aim, says the Serpentine, is to choose architects who consistently extend the boundaries of contemporary architectural practice and to introduce these practitioners to a wider audience.

With names like Zaha Hadid (the Pavilion’s inaugural architect), Bjarke Ingels and Frank Gehry on the list of past designers, the invitation is one of the greatest an architect could hope to receive and results in landmark temporary structures. Averaging roughly 250 000 visitors each year, the Pavilion must be designed to be used as a café during the day and a space for learning, debate and entertainment at night, becoming a focus for a variety of public arts programmes, talks and workshops.

This year it is the turn of Diébédo Francis Kéré, a Berlin-based, Burkina Faso-born architect whose work emphasis is on social and ecological engagement and aims to create a sense of community. Kéré is the first African architect to be selected to design the Serpentine Pavilion in its 17 year existence.

Diébédo Francis Kéré
Diébédo Francis Kéré
Image: Erik Jan Ouwerkerk

Through his firm Kéré Architecture, his work is now internationally acclaimed and awarded yet, despite this recognition (including a professorship at Harvard) he strives to make a difference in the buildings he creates from a grass-roots level. Most often using local materials, local technologies and local craftsmen to create his structures, Kéré is acutely aware of the need for community upliftment, especially in his home town of Gando, where he designed the 2001 award winning Gando Primary School.

“My experience of growing up in a remote desert village has instilled a strong awareness of the social, sustainable and cultural implications of design. I believe that architecture has the power to surprise, unite and inspire, all while mediating important aspects such as community, ecology and economy,” he says.

Kere’s Pavilion is inspired by the all-important African tree, a place where locals in rural communities gather, discuss, play and live out their daily lives. “The proposed design for the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion is conceived as a micro cosmos – a community structure within Kensington Gardens, that fuses cultural references of my home country,” he adds.

The Kéré Pavilion employs a characteristically simple structure and uses wood in both its roof and sides. The roof, or canopy, is designed to provide shade as well as funnel rain into the centre of the structure and away, with a delicate slatted skin casting its shadows onto the ground below like the branches of a tree. The “walls” of the tree are created using stacked blue wooden blocks which make up triangles; the blocks and their patterning a reference to the rich textiles worn in his village on important occasions. The pavilion then becomes a beacon of light at night, much like the light cast from any celebration seen from afar in the dark rural surrounds of his youth.

“Francis Kéré’s Pavilion highlights the power of simplicity by reducing architecture to its core elements, modelled in harmony with the natural context of Kensington Gardens,” say Serpentine Galleries CEO Yana Peel and Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist.

If you’re planning a trip to London, catch it on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens until 8 October this year.serpentinegalleries.org/explore/pavilion

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