Zaha Hadid Architects’ first permanent structure in London—a restaurant building made from tensile fabric, steel, and glass—has something of the appearance of a carnival tent. I’ve watched this building grow in Hyde Park over the past year, appearing like a white efflorescence on the side of one of London’s odder little buildings, an austerely neoclassical 1805 military gunpowder magazine. Now it has taken on a new use as the second home of the Serpentine Gallery, a short walk away.
It may not be the biggest or most dramatic of Hadid's recent work—for that one must look to Baku in Azerbaijan and her glistening white Heydar Aliyev Centre—but in architecture, client prestige and location are everything. The tiny Serpentine Gallery has a cultural reach way beyond its size, something amply demonstrated by its ambitious program of annual temporary pavilions by international architects—Sou Fujimoto this year. Hadid is a trustee of the gallery, and the chairman of its board is none other than Pritzker Prize chair Lord Palumbo. It also occupies a site within the green heart of London, the great former royal hunting grounds of the adjacent Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The $23.5 million spent on Hadid’s building here has an impact worth ten times that spent elsewhere.