The new Serpentine Sackler Gallery: A modern classic takes shape

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Zaha Hadid's new creation is unveiled tomorrow. It shows how to update but not upstage a revered building, says Jay Merrick

We may be in the grip of austerity, but the new Zaha Hadid Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London's Hyde Park, which opens to the public on Saturday, offers a vivid, architectural antidote. Hadid's £14.5m transformation of an early-19th- century gunpowder magazine at the kink of West Carriage Drive redefines the Serpentine Gallery's image and allows its co-directors, Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, to roll out a much wider arts and culture offering – as if exhibiting the work of 1,600 artists in the past 43 years were not enough. Their plans for the Sackler include new kinds of art, cinema, and literary events.

Hadid's first building in London was the Serpentine Gallery's inaugural temporary summer pavilion in 2000, and the new gallery – four minutes' walk away – is her first completed permanent structure in central London, despite the fact that she has studied, lived, and worked in the city for more than 40 years. Her association with dramatic architectural bigness may have something to do with that. But now we glimpse something more finely crafted in her work.

The headline feature of Hadid's renovation and extension of the 215-year-old building is the languid lily-white roof of the new gallery's café and social space. The canopy ripples outwards from the old brick facade, and melts down over the glass walls like a subsiding Modernist soufflé to touch the ground at three points.

Some may declare it an outrage that a Grade II* listed building, designed by Decimus Burton, should be carbuncled with a kind of Mr Whippy splodge minus the Flake bar. And not a few architectural aficionados will wince and murmur: "Designer chic." It's true that the curves of the Sackler's glass walls seem almost too perfect. And true that the silicone-coated cloth on the underside of the roof is stitched and tailored as beautifully as a lady's shirt from Anne Fontaine in Sloane Street and that the five sinuous columns supporting the roof look a bit like hollowed-out Prada high heels.

But the default connection between Zaha Hadid and all things fashionable is not entirely relevant here. Indeed, the extension is the latest of two pieces of new London architecture in the past year that have added something absolutely modern to historically important buildings, without upstaging them. The vast wave-form canopy over the new concourse at King's Cross station, designed by John McAslan + Partners, is the other example. Both stop safely short of being wow-factor eye-cons, and interventions of this design quality show how historic buildings, regardless of scale, can retain their historic character, yet reach forward ingeniously into the 21st century.

The changes at the gunpowder magazine have been quite simple. Gallery spaces have been created by roofing the gap between the original storage building and the additional single- storey protective facade around it, and Hadid and her historic buildings consultant Liam O'Connor have added a deliberately plain office segment along its northern side. The magazine, an encyclopaedia of 18 different brick types, remains much as it was in the early 19th century. According to the historian, Leo Hollis, a certain Mr Walter, armed with a sparkless copper shovel, tended the gunpowder packed into the church-like chambers. These are now two highly atmospheric central gallery spaces, with a rectangle of four longer spaces around them.

The creation of the new gallery was not simply about the Serpentine's ability to raise money, which in this case, depended primarily on the generosity of the Sackler Foundation, with significant further funding from Bloomberg and other donors. Originally encouraged by the Serpentine's chairman, Lord Palumbo, Peyton-Jones and Obrist were off the blocks quickly when, in 2009, the Royal Parks advertised the availability of a 25-year lease on the old gunpowder magazine. And those competing for it had to submit detailed proposals, plus confirmed funding, within four months.

"It was like a thriller," recalls Peyton-Jones. "We hadn't really investigated the building. The site was completely overgrown. You saw only the main facade. There was a pretty little meadow in front of it, and one Italian urn which the Royal Parks didn't seem to want. It was a fascinating process, because we knew the licence was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"And it was by no means a foregone conclusion that we would get it. Actually, we were at a disadvantage: we already had one building in the park, and some people couldn't see why we should get another. But what we have here now is absolutely Zaha's concept from day one. And it isn't just about galleries, it was about creating social space, and supporting the parkland setting."

By Hadid's standards, the new extension is remarkably deferential to its context. As Obrist points out, the new structure has very little sense of weight; the roof is linked to the historic west facade in a very refined way; and the quality of internal light, and the inside-outside ambience, is calm and refreshing.

And so, Hadid's original concept sketch – as languid and serpentine as a squiggle of Golden Syrup – has come to life in a setting where Queen Caroline once hoped to create an ultra-grand landscape to rival the gardens of Versailles in the early 19th century. There is certainly nothing grand or blingtastic about the transformation and extension of the old magazine. The ghost of Mr Walter, shuffling around cautiously in his gunpowder-caked stockings, would still recognise his old haunt – but he might be stunned by the first exhibit in the Sackler's opening show, by Adrián Villar Rojas.

It's an almost life-size concrete elephant kneeling painfully under the weight of a massive cast of the historic architrave across the building's main façade. A few steps away, Zaha Hadid's billowing, finessed canopy makes much lighter work of history.

Today We Reboot the Planet, by Adrian Villar Rojas, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London W2 (020 7402 6075) 28 September to 10 November

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz