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
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
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.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...