Ai Weiwei defies China to design Serpentine Pavilion

  • @kevinJrawlinson

He has been imprisoned by the Chinese government, barred from leaving his homeland and told not to speak to anyone outside its borders by officials. None of that, however, will stand in the way of the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has been announced as the designer of this year's Pavilion at London's Serpentine Gallery – and who will give his orders via Skype.

A spokeswoman for the Serpentine announced the decision to reunite him with the architects he worked with on Beijing's famous Bird's Nest Olympic stadium and said the Gallery could only hope that Weiwei, pictured, would be able to fly to Britain to fulfil the commission in person. "If he cannot, the team will be able to carry on as it is," she added and that is over the internet.

The Gallery's directors were keen to avoid politicising the decision to appoint Weiwei yesterday. Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist said: "This is a project about art and architecture. It came about because it is an Olympic year and it is the same team which worked on the Beijing stadium."

Mr Obrist added: "It is also about linking Beijing with London and the next venue, Rio de Janeiro."

Ai Weiwei will once again work with design team Herzog & de Meuron on the project. They plan to excavate part of the Gallery's gardens, rediscovering some of the remains of former installations.

Each of the 11 columns in the subterranean Pavilion will represent one of its predecessors – an annual feature of Gallery since 2000 – with a 12th added by the designers. It will also have a reflective roof similar to the 2009 installation, which will collect rainwater or be used to host events.

The designers' intention is that the roof will provide optical illusions, appearing to be above the ground from some angles and below it from others. "The sky will also be visible in it and people will be able to see the clouds rolling across it," the Gallery spokeswoman added.

Describing their design concept Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei said: "Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion. In that way we incorporate an otherwise invisible aspect of reality in the park – the water under the ground – into our Pavilion.

"As we dig down into the earth we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables and former foundations.

"The three-dimensional reality of this landscape is astonishing and it is also the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed. In other words, the ideal environment for continuing to do what visitors have been doing in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions over the past 11 years – and a discovery for the many new visitors anticipated for the London 2012 Olympic Games."

The installation will run from June to October 2012.