jacques herzog, ai weiwei and pierre de meuron image courtesy of serpentine gallery

swiss architects herzog & de meuron and contemporary chinese architect ai weiwei have been selected to design the 2012 serpentine gallery pavilion. it is the twelfth commission in the gallery’s annual series.

the design team first came together to construct the beijing national stadium for the 2008 olympic games for which they won the RIBA lubetkin prize. this will be their first collaborative built structure in the UK.

their proposal will take visitors beneath the serpentine’s lawn to explore the hidden history of the site’s previous pavilions. eleven columns characterizing each of the past pavilions and a twelfth column will support a floating platform roof 1.5 metres above ground. the approach is an archaeological one, whereby the architects have created a design that will get visitors to look beneath the surface of the park as well as back in time across the ghosts of earlier structures.

herzog & de meuron + ai weiwei to design serpentine pavilion 2012 national stadium, bejing, china, the main stadium for the 2008 olympic games herzog & de meuron and ai weiwei © iwan baan

herzog & de meuron and ai weiwei on their design concept for the serpentine gallery: ‘every year since 2000, a different architect has been responsible for creating the serpentine gallery’s summer pavilion for kensington gardens. that makes eleven pavilions so far, our contribution will be the twelfth. so many pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape.

our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. there we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the london rain that falls in the area of the pavilion. in that way we incorporate an otherwise invisible aspect of reality in the park – the water under the ground – into our pavilion. as we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations. like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. their shape varies: circular, long and narrow, dots and also large, constructed hollows that have been filled in. these remains testify to the existence of the former pavilions and their greater or lesser intervention in the natural environment of the park.

all of these foundations will now be uncovered and reconstructed. the old foundations form a jumble of convoluted lines, like a sewing pattern. a distinctive landscape emerges out of the reconstructed foundations which is unlike anything we could have invented; its form and shape is actually a serendipitous gift. the three-dimensional reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed. in other words, the ideal environment for continuing to do what visitors have been doing in the serpentine gallery pavilions over the past eleven years – and a discovery for the many new visitors anticipated for the london 2012 olympic games.

on the foundations of each single pavilion, we extrude a new structure (supports, walls) as load-bearing elements for the roof of our pavilion – eleven supports all told, plus our own column that we can place at will, like a wild card. the roof resembles that of an archaeological site. it floats some five feet above the grass of the park, so that everyone visiting can see the water on it, its surface reflecting the infinitely varied, atmospheric skies of london. for special events, the water can be drained off the roof as from a bathtub, from whence it flows back into the waterhole, the deepest point in the pavilion landscape. the dry roof can then be used as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park.’

herzog & de meuron + ai weiwei to design serpentine pavilion 2012 serpentine gallery pavilion 2011 designed by peter zumthor © peter zumthor photograph: walter herfst

see designboom’s coverage of previous serpentine gallery pavilions: peter zumthor: serpentine gallery pavilion 2011 jean nouvel: serpentine gallery  pavilion 2010 SANAA: serpentine gallery pavilion 2009 frank gehry: serpentine gallery pavilion 2008

herzog & de meuron + ai weiwei to design serpentine pavilion 2012 serpentine gallery pavilion 2010 designed by jean nouvel © ateliers jean nouvel photographs: philippe ruault