L ondon-based arts writer Farah Nayeri was at the unveiling of Zaha Hadid’s Lilas back in 2007. Here, ahead of her discussion about the work with Zaha Hadid Architects' Patrick Schumacher at Art Out Loud this weekend - BOOK TICKETS - she reveals how the pavilion saved the day for the Serpentine Gallery...
In July 2007, three towering white parasols popped up on the front lawn of London's Serpentine Gallery. Like thick-stemmed calla lilies, they overlapped without ever touching, surrounded by vast stretches of Serpentine grass.
ZAHA HADID'S LILAS IS ON VIEW AT CHATSWORTH THROUGH 30 OCTOBER.
Lilas (as the installation was called) was the brainchild of the late architect Zaha Hadid. It was also an exercise in sophisticated damage control. That summer's main Serpentine pavilion was late: Just weeks away from the deadline, its designers - the contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson and the architect Kjetil Thorsen - had announced that they were unable to deliver it in time for the gallery's key annual fundraiser, the summer party. The Serpentine faced a potential financial and reputational fiasco.
It took one telephone call from Serpentine Director Julia Peyton-Jones to Zaha Hadid for the Pritzker-Prize-winning architect to step in. Hadid was no newcomer to the Serpentine's pavilion program. She was, in fact, its pioneer, having designed the very first summer pavilion in 2000. The concept had proved so popular that the Serpentine had then secured government permission to commission one from a different architect every year.
ZAHA HADID AND PATRIK SCHUMACHER AT THE SERPENTINE LAUNCH IN 2007. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUKE HAYES.
Within weeks of that fateful phone call, Hadid and her partner Patrik Schumacher computer-designed Lilas, an open-air structure composed of three tensile fabric parasols. "Each parasol develops structurally from a small articulated base to a large cantilevered diamond shape," Hadid later explained (in Philip Jodidio's 2011 book Serpentine Gallery Pavilions). "Taking inspiration from complex natural geometries such as flower petals and leaves, the three parasols overlap to create the pavilion's main conceptual feature: complex symmetry, interweaving all the while without touching."
On the morning of 11 July 2007 - with the fundraiser just hours away - a scrum of reporters including myself attended the unveiling of Lilas. We were acutely aware that, thanks to Hadid's eleventh-hour intervention, a PR disaster had been averted, and that the Serpentine Gallery was ending up with two pavilions instead of one that summer.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST, JULIA PEYTON-JONES, ZAHA HADID, PATRIK SCHUMACHER AND NADJA SWAROVSKI WITH LILAS AT THE SERPENTINE IN 2007. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUKE HAYES.
At mid-morning, with a palpable sense of relief, Peyton-Jones stepped onto the carpeted Lilas platform. "Architecture is a moveable feast: We all know that it's incredibly difficult to pin down," she said. Delayed delivery of the main pavilion had actually served as "the most incredible opportunity to expand the program," she added.
Hadid, dressed in a pleated black Issey Miyake tunic, also shared some thoughts with the press. "The idea was to make an enclosure of sorts, with umbrellas, or mushrooms," she said. "This is for a party, and people can go in and out." She then broke away to pose for photographers with her co-designer Schumacher on the Lilas platform.
SERPENTINE SUMMER PARTY IN 2007. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUKE HAYES.
Even before its unveiling to the press, Lilas was sold to a private individual for an undisclosed sum. It was dismantled 10 days after being put up, and has not been sighted in public since.
Now, Lilas is the centerpiece of Beyond Limits, Sotheby's selling exhibition at Chatsworth. Lovers of architecture and admirers of the work of Zaha Hadid have until 30 October to view and purchase the work.
Farah Nayeri is an arts writer based in London. She is chairing a panel discussion on Lilas with architect Patrik Schumacher as part of Art Out Loud at Chatsworth on 25 September. Find out more and BOOK TICKETS