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Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Hyde Park, London.
Through October 20, 2013

Sou Fujimoto’s pavilion in Kensington Gardens sits — or floats, some have written — a stone’s throw from the Albert Memorial. There, Prince Albert is honored for supplying the vision behind the Crystal Palace, the showcase of Victorian industry erected for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Fujimoto’s structure of white steel and transparent glass and plastic shares the lightness of a glass house, certainly more than the wood or cork constructions of some years’ installations. But this is a glass house stretched, twisted, and turned inside out.

Rather than a clear and open interior from which to admire the park, the central area of the pavilion, filled with white café seating, is overlooked by steeply raked platforms of glass panels fixed here and there on the steel frame. Visitors, encouraged to interact with the structure, step tentatively. Climbing up and down feels risky. The overriding sensation is of being surveyed or surveying, depending on where you’re perched. This makes for a space where the more reclusive among us will probably not choose to linger, at least not on a busy weekend. Although the green outside and the audible sounds from the surrounding lawns remind you where you are, there’s a disconcerting sense of enclosure or imprisonment — partly due, perhaps, to the invisibility of the way out, hidden by the forest of steel.

Once you’re out under the skies again, the stepped seating on the exterior of this exploded, inside-out glass house makes a more comfortable place to enjoy the verdant setting.