The 2023 Serpentine Pavilion is a design by French-Lebanese Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh. Inspired by the architect’s Mediterranean heritage and memories of passionate discussions around the table, on everything from personal dreams and aspirations to current affairs, the Pavilion is aptly titled À table. It is described by Serpentine as “a French call to sit down together at a table to engage and participate in dialogue while sharing a meal.”
The design for the Pavilion is based on the Toguna huts of the Dogon people in Mali, West Africa. Built with a low roof, the Toguna hut is created with the express purpose of making people sit, thereby helping to avoid confrontation if discussions become heated. For Lina Ghotmeh, “À table is an invitation to dwell together, in the same space and around the same table. It is an encouragement to enter into a dialogue, to convene, and to think about how we could reinstate and re-establish our relationship to nature and the Earth.”
Growing up in the ancient and cosmopolitan city of Beirut, Ghotmeh had originally wanted to become an archaeologist. She instead pursued a career in architecture at the American University of Beirut and embraced a methodology described as an “archeology of the future.” Ghotmeh excavates in order to design, saying: “I learn from the traces of the past and listen to the voices of our ancestors as well of those of our living world to create every new place. These voices vividly resonate with future structures as ways to influence and challenge tomorrow’s architecture.” This way of thinking is manifested in the design of À table.
À table is a mass timber building, built predominantly with bio-sourced and low-carbon materials. With a design that responds to the Serpentine's surrounding trees, glulam columns encircle the Pavilion’s perimeter and emerge as a colonnade of “thin tree trunks.” Ornamental fretwork plywood panels with plant-like cut-outs sit between the columns, allowing for natural light and ventilation. A pleated plywood roof draws upon the structure of a palm leaf and steel flitch beams have been used sparingly, in specific areas, to reinforce the roof's glulam rafters. A central light well — a bespoke, pretensioned fabric structure — further integrates the Pavilion with the environment. Given the temporary nature of the Serpentine Pavilion, À table is a completely demountable construction — Ghotmeh places an emphasis on sustainably sourced materials and the reusability of the Pavilion. Moreover, precast concrete pads allow the same foundation to be reused.
On the inside, Ghotmeh has designed a series of handcrafted tables and chairs, made from oak with a dark red finish. The furniture invites people to gather, sit, talk, and enjoy the convivial atmosphere of this contemporary Toguna-like space.
The Serpentine Pavilion, À table, is open until 29th October 2023.