To be honest, I am always attracted by visually striking new architecture that contrasts with its surroundings, so my first impression of the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery by Zaha Hadid was that of astonishment! And it is certainly astounding. Nevertheless, after giving it some thought and reading some reviews, one comes to the conclusion that being surprising is not enough to be a good piece of Architecture.
The two parts of the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery are diametrically opposed to each other. A rather whimsical, undulating, glazed restaurant and events space is attached to an existing brick, square, classical building, a former gunpowder store dating from the beginning of the 19th century. In my opinion, this contrast is the major achievement of the project: square-curvy, brick-fabric, opaque-glazed, classical-futuristic, restrained-extravagant are some of the opposites that have been brought together in the new gallery. However, this relation between opposites is not fair as the existing Georgian building is clearly overshadowed by the white, undulating new building. The latest Hadid’s folly is doubtless attracting all the attention. And this attention is not drawn to the main function of the building (an exhibition space), but to the restaurant and snack bar!
Had it been the summer pavilion it would have had more success as, on one hand, its materials suggest a rather temporary construction, especially its tensile fabric roof, and, on the other hand, the summer pavilion is meant to be experimental and concessions about function and relation with the surroundings and the existing building can be made. In an interview, Hadid said ‘the world is not a rectangle’, and I agree, but the problem with her is not her curvy buildings but her utter lack of subtlety and the feeling that everything is excessive. Just as an example, SANAA also makes a lot of curves, but the result is not convoluted, on the contrary, it is subtle and as effective and sculptural as Hadid’s designs.