Herbaceous space

’Plants embody everything that I like to have around me: presence, personality, character. They have movement, colour, structure, scale and proportion,’ says Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, the creator of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion.

Enclosed in a minimal, geometric timber structure, the Hortus Conclusus pavilion houses a secret garden of grasses and herbaceous perennials. The planting has been created by Piet Oudolf, the Dutch garden designer behind the 1.6km-long railway garden High Line, in New York.

Zumthor describes plants as ’strong, yet softly spoken’ a description also fitting of his pavilion. Its stark walls and staggered doorways cleanly frame the ’garden within a garden’, allowing the architecture of the plants themselves to be the main point of contemplation. ’The building acts as a stage, a backdrop for the interior garden of flowers and light,’ says Zumthor.

Perhaps inspired by his former training as a cabinet-maker, crafted internal spaces are integral to Zumthor’s work. The Vals baths in Switzerland’s Graubünden were created to feel as though they were carved into hillside caverns, while the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany’s Wachendorf was made by moulding a cuboid of concrete around a wigwam of tree trunks before setting the frame on fire, to reveal a blackened cavity and charred walls.

Just as with the ten pavilions that came before it in the annual series, the 960m2 space is the first structure to be built in the UK by Zumthor.

He says, ’The pavilion aims to help its audience take the time to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, to start to talk again or maybe not.’

Hortus Conclusus is open at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2 from 1July to 16 October

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