Summer Pavilion

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One of my favourite annual London events is the emergence of a brand new Summer Pavilion each year in the grounds of Kensington Garden’s Serpentine Gallery. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto provides the 13th iteration of this project, with his cloud-like grid of white steel poles arising from the green grass. But this a cloud you can sit in, with transparent steps creating seats and producing an interactive feel to his installation  – and also making visitors appear as if they are suspended in space.

IMG_2891Fujimoto has spoken of how his installation contrasts the natural environment of the park with a ‘constructed geometry’ – and there is a decidedly digital look to the grids of which it is composed.

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This is the fourth Summer Pavilion that I have visited and photographed – to celebrate, this post will also look back briefly to the last three designs in this unique series.

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The 2010 Summer Pavilion by French architect Jean Nouvel (shown above and in the following two images) holds a special place in my heart given that it is pictured across the top of The Londonphile’s website. Yes, that green and red image I use everywhere was taken looking through the bright red, transparent walls of the pavilion through to the gallery beyond. Like this year’s version, Nouvel’s design included a cafe inside the pavilion itself.

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The black, almost forbidding exterior of the 2011 pavilion (shown in the three images below) – designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor – belied the fact that it contained a very pretty surprise on the inside, in the form of a fully planted garden. The garden was surrounded by seats, so visitors could soak up the tranquility.

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The 2012 design (pictured in the following three images) also boasted some pretty unique qualities. Ai Wei Wei designed the pavilion in conjunction with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron via Skype whilst under house arrest in China. The design itself referenced all the previous pavilions by integrating their outlines and contours into the design of the floorplan, which was clad in cork. It also featured a rather lovely floating platform roof built across the structure.

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To return to the present day, the 2013 Summer Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is open until 20th October. It can be found in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, and is free to visit.

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Raising Tower Bridge

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to be asked to ‘open’ Tower Bridge – that is, to perform what is known as a bridge lift. Ian Visits has also written about what a surprisingly exciting experience this is and I thoroughly agree – I was on a real high afterwards.

I’d had this idea that opening the bridge would involve pressing only one button, but no, numerous buttons and a lever were involved. The buttons operate functions such as the traffic lights, the pedestrian gates and generally getting the bridge ready to be opened. The lever is surprisingly small and looks suspiciously like one you might find on a 1980s games console. You actually have to hold this lever down until the bridge fully opens, then hold it up for it to close. Such a small lever with such power!

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The more high-tech computer pictured below was also involved, changing screens to track the progress of the bridge lift:

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I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I took a real pleasure in holding up both pedestrians and traffic. You can see them all queuing up here:

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Bridge lifts are booked in advance by writing (though email is also acceptable these days) for boats whose height means the bridge must be opened to allow them through. They can take place at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, and are free of charge. I was happy that the two boats I was opening the bridge for were lovely multi-masted, vintage sailing yachts, SB Will and SB Kitty. You can see them approaching from the East below:

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Many thanks to the City of London and Chris Earlie for organising my lift, and Bridge Driver Peter Brown in the cabin for his patient instructions and friendly conversation. Although you may not get a chance to open Tower Bridge yourself, you can always visit Tower Bridge and its incredibly scenic walkways. I also highly recommend their Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which normally runs several times a year between October and March, on which you will get to visit an old control cabin and descend into the bascule chambers that lie below the Thames.

Finally, here is the lovely certificate I received to commemorate my bridge lift:

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