Oscar Niemeyer “took The Brief Very Seriously” For 2003 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

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Film: in the subsequent instalment of our exclusive video series with Julia Peyton-Jones, the Serpentine Gallery director recalls her trip to Brazil to convince Oscar Niemeyer to design and style the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in 2003.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer. Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Niemeyer’s 2003 Serpentine Gallery pavilion consisted of a white tent-shaped construction produced from steel, aluminium, concrete and glass, which guests could enter via a vivid red ramp at the front.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Peyton-Jones reveals that the Brazilian architect didn’t initially respond when she asked him to layout the pavilion.

“Zaha Hadid wrote the letter of introduction,” Peyton-Jones recalls. “But it went into a black hole. We didn’t get a reply.”

Oscar Niemeyer with Julia Peyton-Jones Oscar Niemeyer with Julia Peyton-Jones. Photograph courtesy of Serpentine Galleries

Peyton-Jones travelled to Rio de Janeiro to meet Niemeyer personally, believing it would be a tough process to convince him to design and style the pavilion that year. She quickly found that her concerns were unfounded.

“He was fully open and explained: ‘Yes, of program,'” she explains. “There is this picture of me sitting across the table from him and it was genuinely like that. Sitting across the table and going: ‘Would you? Could you? Shall we?’ And we just type of did it and it all came with each other.”

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Niemeyer obtained a really simple, open brief, with the budget currently being the primary constraint.


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“He took the quick extremely seriously,” Peyton-Jones says. “The brief was about four pages, it talked about the price range, but it was super easy. That quick has remained the exact same over the total 15 many years.”

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer Photograph by Richard Bryant

The tent-like form of Niemeyer’s pavilion rested on a narrow glass box housing a partly submerged auditorium, which gave the impression that the external framework was floating off the ground.

Like earlier architects, Niemeyer also created the furnishings within the pavilion.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2003 by Oscar Niemeyer Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Peyton-Jones recalls when Luíz Inácio da Silva – who was the President of Brazil at the time and a personal buddy of Niemeyer – came to go to the pavilion.


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“His interpreter didn’t communicate a word of English, so that was a bit of a thing,” she recalls. “I just guided him around by his arm and he patted the babies’ heads and so on.”

Julia Peyton-Jones portrait Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones. Copyright: Dezeen

This film was filmed by Dezeen at the Serpentine Gallery in London. All photography is courtesy of Serpentine Galleries, except if otherwise stated.

Dezeen is looking back at each of the pavilions from 2000 to 2015 in a series of videos. You can observe all the motion pictures as we publish them on our YouTube playlist:

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