At the end of November, London’s Serpentine announced that Paris-based, Beirut-born architect Lina Ghotmeh will design the 2023 pavilion. Ghotmeh, who founded her multidisciplinary practice Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture in 2016, undertakes site-specific, socially informed projects at the intersection of art and architecture.
Ghotmeh’s pavilion, À table, alludes to the French tradition of communing over a meal and invites engagement by offering ample tableside seating for visitors to “eat, work, play, meet, talk, rethink, and decide.” In a statement, the architect called the design “an encouragement to enter into dialogue, to convene, and to think about how we could reinstate and re-establish our relationship to nature and the Earth.” After its time as the annual temporary Serpentine Pavilion, it will be possible to rebuild the dismountable timber structure, giving the pavilion a potential second life elsewhere. The low, pleated roof is meant to evoke the togu’na huts of the Dogon people in Mali, West Africa, as well as the structure of tree leaves and canopies, according to the architect.
The design for the 22nd pavilion aims to invite interaction with its Kensington Gardens site. Photos © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture, courtesy Serpentine, click to enlarge.
Themes of communal history, shared tradition, and the cycles of nature reverberate through Ghotmeh’s portfolio—what she calls the “archeology of the future.” This excavation of ideas from the past as a means to enrich contemporary architecture is present in her work from the Estonian National Museum (2016) to Stone Garden (2020), a 13-story mixed-use residential tower in Beirut featured on the cover of RECORD in October 2020. Although damaged by Beirut’s port explosion in August of that year, the structure withstood the blast, and some residents have since returned to their apartments, despite the grave economic situation in Lebanon.
Lina Ghotmeh (1), the architect of Beirut’s Stone Garden (2, photographed before the port explosion), unveils her design for the Serpentine Pavilion (top of page). Photos © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture (1), Gilbert Hage (2)
At the time of the catastrophe, Ghotmeh recalls, “the younger generations started cleaning the streets, recycling and reusing materials” in a nod to the same idea of cyclicity that underpins her work. In the aftermath of the explosion, greenery flourished, reclaiming abandoned houses and piles of rubble. “Growing up in a completely destroyed city, nature brought hope and beauty to the environment,” Ghotmeh says, referring to her own childhood memories of the Lebanese Civil War, which wrought havoc in Beirut from the mid-1970s on.
Stone Garden maintains a relationship with the city’s ecology, but also subtly recalls Beirut’s history. The land where the building now stands, once owned by well-respected Lebanese architect Pierre El Khoury, was passed down to his family, including his son, photographer Fouad El Khoury. Photographic framing inspired Ghotmeh’s design, with deep square apertures punching through the building’s thick walls. In addition to Stone Garden’s 14 residential units, two lower floors house an art foundation.
Following its 2021 Venice Biennale debut, Ghotmeh’s installation Stone Garden. An Archaeology of the Future—now on view at the Cooper Hewitt in New York until September 2023—comprises a large model of the project, with art embedded in its walls, that suggests the role artists play in times of trauma.
Current projects in Ghotmeh’s Paris office include a workshop for Hermès, which will use site-sourced bricks for the brand’s forthcoming low-carbon, passive building in Normandy; Réalimenter Masséna, a mixed-use timber tower in Paris that is also an experiment in vertical agriculture; and the Saradar Collection, a sensitively planned museum embedded in the mountains outside Beirut. Although currently on hold due to the state of the country’s economy, the museum will house “a cabinet of curiosities” tracing Lebanese history.
“Every time we start a new project, we try to understand where we are intervening, what kind of life already exists,” she says. “It’s powerful for architects to think about this whole earth as our common home, and how we can sustain it.”
Ghotmeh joins an international roster of young Serpentine designers, including the Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, who is renovating the modern and contemporary galleries for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the South Africa–based collective Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally; and Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, designer of last summer’s circular wood structure, Black Chapel.
À table will open to the 'public' in June 2023, accompanied by a slate of educational programs and performances.