April 26, 2017
Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline.
Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.
It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.
The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.
Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).
The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.
The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.
WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.
December 13, 2016
Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.
November 22, 2016
Autumnal colour on display in Bushy Park, south-west London. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.
PICTURE: David Adams
This Week in London – Medieval embroidery; Maino on show; former toilet block becomes Kensington Garden’s newest eatery; and, a new Lord Mayor…
September 29, 2016
• Objects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
• Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.
• Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.
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August 16, 2016
July 5, 2016
The remains of the 17th century Old Keeper’s Cottage in Greenwich Park are being brought to light in an archaeological dig underway in the park this week. The lodge stood close to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak near the centre of the park and was demolished in 1853. This year’s dig is the final of a three year project to unearth the lodge’s remains, sparked after tiles were discovered near the site of the cottage in 2010. Finds so far include a second century Roman brooch, post-medieval pottery and a Victorian watch-winder. The digs have also revealed remains associated with the lodge including two buildings and part of the boundary of the complex. Toni Assirati, head of education and community engagement at Royal Parks, says while much is already known about the history of Greenwich Park – which dates back to 1427 – much remains to be yet discovered about its social history. “This project will hopefully help us find out more about the lives of the people who worked and lived in the park.” Members of the public are invited to attend from 3pm to 6pm on 13th July to hear more about the project from the archaeologists involved as well as see some of the unearthed artefacts. For more about Greenwich Park, see our earlier post here or head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park. PICTURE: Greenwich Park, looking toward Observatory Hill (the site of the dig is to the left of the hill). © Anne Marie Briscombe/Royal Parks.
June 27, 2016
Sir Joseph Paxton was one of the pre-eminent landscape gardeners and architects of the Victorian age, although his name is remembered today in great part because of his role in creating one of the most famous buildings of the era – London’s Crystal Palace.
Paxton was born to a large Bedfordshire farming family on 3rd August, 1803 (although the year has been a matter of dispute at times, apparently because, wanting to appear older than he was, early on in his career he claimed that he had been born in 1801).
He attended school locally before venturing into the gardening profession (a number of other family members were already involved in gardening), taking on a number of gardening-related jobs before his first break came in 1823 when he was admitted by the Horticultural Society of London to work as a student gardener in the experimental gardens of Chiswick House in London’s west – then leased by the society from the Duke of Devonshire.
His work was soon noticed and, in 1826, the duke, with whom Paxton would come to have a close friendship, was apparently so enamoured that he appointed him to the position of head gardener at Chatsworth House, his family pile in Derbyshire.
It was something of a dream job for the then still young Paxton, who, over the ensuing years would be responsible for designing gardens as well as fountains (including the Emperor Fountain, named after Emperor Nicholas I of Russia), an arboretum, a model village, a conservatory of unprecedented size – known as the Great Conservatory, and a lily house, the latter featuring a design based on the leaves of the giant Victoria amazonica water lily.
Paxton’s ties to Chatsworth were strengthened further when he married the niece of Chatsworth’s housekeeper, Sarah Bown, in 1827. They would have eight children, six of whom survived.
Chatsworth became the most famous garden in England under Paxton’s watch but for many, it is his instrumental role in the Great Exhibition pavilion which stands out as his greatest achievement.
His involvement was really that of an opportunist – all of the original 245 plans for the main exhibition hall had been rejected when Paxton, on hearing of this while in London on business with regard for his role as a director of the Midland Railway, delivered his own design.
Inspired very much by the lily house he had designed (and which had yet to be completed) at Chatsworth, the design was innovative for a number of reasons, including its modular and prefabricated nature and the copious amounts of glass it used (only possible due to recent technological developments concerning the use of iron and glass).
Following its acceptance (this despite the fact it apparently breached the design competition’s rules), it took some 2,000 men eight months to build the 500 metre long building which, despite some criticism, was such a success at the Great Exhibition that in October of 1851 – some five months after its opening – Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. (For more on the Crystal Palace, see our earlier entry here).
Following the Great Exhibition, the building, with Paxton’s aid, was relocated to Sydenham in south London after the exhibition where it remained until it burned down in 1936.
Paxton, meanwhile, returned to his post as head gardener at Chatsworth (a role he fulfilled until 1858), but he is also credited with numerous other projects including the design of public parks in places as far afield as Liverpool and Glasgow, and the design of the London Road Cemetery in Coventry.
He was also involved in the commission charged with improving the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designed numerous residences, the most famous being Mentmore Towers which he designed for Baron Mayer de Rothschild (among his other contributions to the world of design was a plan for an ‘atmospheric railway in London’ which was never built – for more on that, see our previous post here).
Paxton, who also acted as a Liberal MP for Coventry for the last 11 years of his life and was for many years involving in publishing various gardening-related magazines, general newspapers and writing a couple of books, became wealthy by speculating on the growing railway industry.
He died on 8th June, 1865, at his home, Rockhills, in Sydenham and was buried in St Peter’s Churchyard at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate. His wife Sarah continued to live at Chatsworth until her death in 1871.
PICTURE: Via Wikimedia Commons.
June 3, 2016
The sculpture, which sits beside the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is the work of children’s book illustrator Ivor Innes.
He spent two years – 1928 to 1930 – carving “Little People” upon an ancient oak tree trunk that had been found in Richmond Park and relocated to Kensington Gardens (and in 1930, with his wife Elsie, published the children’s book, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens).
The characters depicted include animals and fanciful creatures such as a gnome called Huckleberry, a series of elves including Grumples and Groodles and a witch named Wookey.
The hollow, incidentally, had been presented to The Royal Parks by Lady Fortescue in response to an appeal run to improve facilities in line with a scheme by George Lansbury (among other things, he also founded the Serpentine Lido).
Now a Grade II listed structure (and well protected by wire mesh), it has a few pop culture associations – among them, the fact that it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1969 album, Ummagumma (the head of the band’s lead singer and guitarist David Gilmour can be seen projecting from the trunk).
Meanwhile, in 1996, Spike Milligan – long a fan of the oak – was the face of a successful campaign to raise funds for its restoration.
Announcing the Grade II listing in 1997, then Heritage Minister Tony Banks noted that the oak sat alongside the late Victorian fascination with Little People and complemented Sir George Frampton’s statue of Peter Pan (also located within the gardens).
“Together the two sculptures make Kensington Gardens very much the world capital of fairies, gnomes and elves,” he reportedly said.
May 31, 2016
A view down Constitution Hill looking toward Whitehall, taken from the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corner. To the left is Green Park and to the right, the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Constitutional Hill apparently has nothing to do with a document of any sort but takes its name from the fact that, considered to be a fine “constitutional” walk from St James’s Park to Hyde Park (King Charles II is rumoured to have been among those said to have taken their “constitutional” along this route while Queen Victoria survived a couple of assassination attempts on the road). The pillars at the near end are symbolic gates commemorating those who served Britain in World War I and II from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean (more on them in an upcoming post).
This Week in London – Exploring flight and space; ‘Horrible’ Tudors at Hampton Court; BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery; and sleeping with the lions…
May 26, 2016
• A “ground-breaking” hands-on exhibition exploring the concept and future of flight and space travel opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this week. Above and Beyond, produced by Evergreen Exhibitions in association with Boeing (and created in collaboration with NASA), features more than 10 interactive displays, allowing visitors to learn to fly like a bird, take an elevator to space, enjoy a view of Earth from above or go on a marathon mission to Mars and see how your body would cope. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/above-and-beyond-exhibition.
• Horrible Histories is bringing the world of the ‘Terrible Tudors’ to life at Hampton Court Palace this half-term break. The Birmingham Stage Company is offering the chance for visitors to dip into 100 years of Tudor history, spanning the reigns of the “horrible” Henries to that of the crowning of King James I in 1603. Get behind the dry facts and discover what the role of the Groom of the Stool was, which queen lost her wig as she was executed and decide whether to join in punishing the ‘whipping boy’ or the monarch and which side you’ll be on as the Spanish Armada set sail. The hour long performances will take place on the palace’s historic East Front Gardens (unreserved seating on the grass). Admission charge applies. Runs from today until 2nd June. For more see, www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
• The Royal Parks is hosting its first ever BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery this Bank Holiday weekend. For 24 for hours from 5pm on Friday, people are invited to join in the hunt to track down as many species of plants, animals and fungi as possible with events including tree and nature walks, earthworm hunts, bee and wasp counts and lichen recording. There will also be a range of stalls for people to visit with representatives from a range of nature and wildlife organisations present. The BioBlitz is one of several projects linked to the £6.2 million National Lottery-funded facelift of the cemetery. For more, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/events/whats-on/bioblitz.
• Sleep with the lions at ZSL London Zoo next to Regent’s Park from this week. The zoo new overnight experience at the Gir Lion Lodge, in which guests can stay in one of nine cabins at the heart of the new Land of the Lions exhibit, opened on Wednesday. Guests will also be taken on exclusive evening and morning tours in which they’ll find out more about how ZSL is working with local communities and rangers in India’s Gir Forest to protect these endangered cats. The private lodges will be available six nights a week until December with designated adults-only and family nights available. For more, see www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/gir-lion-lodge.
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January 26, 2016
Brompton Cemetery in London’s west is to undergo a major renovation thanks to a £6.2 million project. Designed by Benjamin Baud and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, the 39 acre cemetery – one of the oldest Grade I listed cemeteries in the country and known as one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries – was strongly influenced by landscapes around St Peter’s in Rome. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Thomas Spencer Wells – Queen Victoria’s surgeon, and thousands of former Chelsea pensioners. The project will see the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs restored and the transformation of North Lodge into a visitor’s centre with shop and cafe as well as other conservation and improvement works. It is funded by an almost £4.5 million grant from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as a £1.2 million investment from The Royal Parks, managers of the site, and £500,000 from The Royal Parks Foundation, only half of which has been raised. Those looking to donate to the foundation’s appeal, can visit www.SupportTheRoyalParks.com. PICTURE: © The Royal Parks
December 15, 2015
Female infant gorilla Alika, who celebrated her first birthday at ZSL London Zoo in Regent’s Park last week, is pictured getting to know her two week old baby brother, Gernot. Named after the partner of a generous donor who has supported the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) international work for wildlife, Gernot (below, top) was born to 22-year-old female Effie and 17-year-old silverback Kumbuka on 25th November, both Western lowland gorillas, and can most often be found tightly snuggled in Effie’s arms (below, bottom). Gorilla keeper Glynn Hennessy said while Gernot had become the “centre of attention” at the zoo’s Gorilla Kingdom, “one-year-old Alika has embraced her new role of the doting big sister”. “Western lowland gorillas live in troops and learn how to act from observing each other’s behaviours and manners and here we can see Alika demonstrating some of the nurturing skills she’s learned from the adults.” This has included touching his head and stroking his face as he sleeps in his mother’s arms. For more, see www.zsl.org. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.
This Week in London – Palaces mark Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign; Richmond Park’s open day; celebrating a famous London redhead; and, London shops features in new work…
September 10, 2015
• A special photographic display has opened at Buckingham Palace this week to commemorate the fact that Queen Elizabeth II has this week become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The outdoor photographic display Long To Reign Over Us features a selection of photographs spanning the period from 1952 to today including informal family moments, official portraits and visits of the Queen to places across the UK and Commonwealth. Highlights include a black and white portrait by Dorothy Wilding from the start of the Queen’s reign in 1952, Cecil Beaton’s official Coronation Day portrait from 1953 and a 2006 image of the Queen with her Highland Ponies. The displays, which are also being shown as Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, can be seen by visitors to Buckingham Palace’s summer opening until 27th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Dorothy Wilding. Royal Collection Trust/© William Hustler and Georgina Hustler/National Portrait Gallery, London
• Still celebrating the Queen becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and a new film installation celebrating the reigns of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria – whose reign she has now surpassed – has opened at Kensington Palace. The film installation explores key moments in the reigns of both – coronations, weddings, births as well as other key moments in their public lives – and also examines the impact of new technologies in the reigns of both queens. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.
• Richmond Park in London’s south-west is holding its annual open day this Sunday with a range of activities for kids including pony rides, the opportunity to see inside a bug hotel with a fibro-optic camera and the chance make pills in a restored Victorian pharmacy. The Holly Lodge Centre, normally reserved for schools and learning groups, will open its doors to the general public will be at the centre of the day, offering a range of activities for children while there will also be a guided walk led by the Friends of Richmond Park, vintage car displays, and a World War I re-enactment. The day runs from 11am to 4pm. Entrance to the Royal Park is free but parking is £5. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.
• This Saturday is Redhead Day UK 2015 and to mark the occasion, the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London is inviting visitors to celebrate by taking a selfie with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic redhead La Ghirlandata. Painted by Rossetti in 1873, the artwork, said to be one of the finest pre-Raphaelite works in the world, is on permanent display at the gallery. The painting features on the cover of Jacky Colliss Harvey’s new book Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, three copies of which will be given away in a special draw at the gallery. Entry is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.
• A six metre high ceramic installation created for the V&A by artist Barnaby Barford has gone on display in the museum’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries in South Kensington. The Tower of Babel is composed of 3,000 small bone china buildings, each of which depicts a real London shop. Bamford photographed more than 6,000 shopfronts in the process of making the work, cycling more than 1,000 miles as he visited every postcode in London. The work can be seen until 1st November. Admission is free. See www.vam.ac.uk.
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This Week in London – The Waterloo Cartoon on show; see inside a former Huguenot’s home; and, Royal Parks’ harvest festivals…
September 3, 2015
• A monumental Victorian-era drawing of the Battle of Waterloo has gone on display in London for the first time since 1972. The Waterloo Cartoon, more formally known as The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after the Battle of Waterloo, measures more than 13 metres long and three metres high. A preparatory drawing for a wall painting which still exists in the House of Lords’ Royal Gallery, it took artist Daniel Maclise more than a year to complete in 1858-59 and was based on eye-witness accounts (the artist even recruited Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to use their German contacts to gather information from Prussian officers present on the day). Long considered a masterpiece, it was bought by the Royal Academy in 1870 – the year of Maclise’s death – and was on show at Burlington House until the 1920s. It has been in storage for much of last century and, newly restored following a grant from Arts Council England, has now gone on display to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The newly conserved drawing is the focus of a new exhibition – Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon, which opened at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly yesterday (between May and August, it was on show as part of a Waterloo exhibition at the Royal Armouries in Leeds). Runs until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
• There’s a rare chance to see inside a former Huguenot merchant’s house dating from 1719 in Spitalfields this weekend. The property at 19 Princelet Street was the home of the Ogier family, who had come to London escaping persecution in France and worked in the silk weaving trade. It was later subdivided into lodgings and workshops with later occupants following a range of trades and professionals while a synagogue was opened in the garden in 1869. The site – which the Spitalfields Centre charity hopes to establish as a museum of immigration – is not generally open to the public but will be open this Saturday and Sunday – from 2pm to 6pm. Entry is free (but donations would be welcome) and there may be queues so its suggested you arrive early. For more, see www.19princeletstreet.org.uk.
• Watch a bee keeping demonstrations, help dig up some potatoes and introduce the children to some farm animals. The Kensington Gardens’ Harvest Festival will be held this Sunday, between 11am and 4pm, and will also include a range of children’ activities, experts from the Royal Parks Guild on hand to answer your questions about food growing and complimentary hot and cold drinks available throughout the day while stocks last. It’s the first of three harvest festivals to be held in Royal Parks this month with Greenwich Park set to host its inaugural harvest festival on 13th September (11am to 4pm) and The Regent’s Park Allotment Garden to host one on 19th September (11am to 5pm). For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.
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August 11, 2015
A stroll through the green oasis of the aptly named Green Park in central London. For a look at the history of Green Park, see our earlier post here.
August 7, 2015
It was former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth who established the plantation in the south-west corner of Richmond Park in 1831 when he was deputy ranger, enclosing the 42 acre site with fences to keep the deer out and planting oak, beech, and chestnut trees with a view to growing them for timber.
It was also he who, drawing on an older name for the area – Isabella Slade (Isabell is thought to have meant ‘dingy yellow’ in Old English and may refer to the colour of the topsoil in the plantation area while Slade meant a shallow valley) – gave it the name the Isabella Plantation.
The garden as we largely know it now was established on the site in the years immediately after World War II with clearings, ponds and waterways (these are today fed from Pen Ponds), thanks in large part to George Thomson, superintendent of the park from 1951-71, and his head gardener, Wally Miller.
Isabella Plantation was opened to the public in 1953 although improvements – including the Bog Garden which was reconstructed in 2000 – continue to be carried out.
Highlights among the flora include the National Collection of ‘Wilson 50’ Kurume azaleas (introduced by plant collector Ernest Wilson from Japan to the West in the 1920s) and large collections of rhododendrons and camellias. The garden also attracts a wide range of birds as well as other wildlife and offers the visitor something to see all year round.
There’s a number of trails you can download free-of-charge from the Royal Parks website which will help you to fully engage with the plantation.
WHERE: Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park (pedestrian access to the plantation from Peg’s Pond Gate, Broomfield Hill Gate, Bramble Gate, Deer Sanctuary Gate and High Wood Gate); WHEN: Daily (check Richmond Park opening times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/richmond-park-attractions/isabella-plantation.
PICTURES: © Greywolf/The Royal Parks
July 14, 2015
Flowers in Regent’s Park, north London. The park, which was designed by John Nash, was opened to the public in 1835. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.
July 7, 2015
June 30, 2015
This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, marking the 15th anniversary of the annual summer commission by the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens, is a polygonal multi-coloured structure designed by Spanish architects selgascano. Made from a fluorine-based polymer, the pavilion has multiple entry and exit points and takes as its inspiration the site itself as well as the way in which people move through London, notably via the web-like network of the London Underground. Say selgascano: “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a pavilion which incorporates all of these elements.” The architects say the pavilion was also designed as a tribute to the previous pavilion commissions, designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha Hadid. For more, see www.serpentinegalleries.org. PICTURE: © Iwan Baan