Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond's 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
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Toyo Ito "gulped" when asked to design the 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Movie: in the next instalment from our exclusive video series with Julia Peyton-Jones, the Serpentine Gallery director recalls the difficulty in convincing Japanese architect Toyo Ito to design the gallery's 2002 summer pavilion.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Initially, when asked to follow on from Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind to design a structure for the gallery in Kensington Gardens, Ito proposed using a pre-existing pavilion he had designed for Bruges to celebrate the Belgian city's tenure as European Capital of Culture.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Peyton-Jones says the Pritzker Prize-winning architect reacted nervously when she told him that the structure needed to be site-specific.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

"I explained to him that – beautiful though it was – we wanted something for the Serpentine," she explains in the movie. "And Ito – who is just wonderfully gracious – gulped."

She continues: "It was very difficult in the early days saying to architects: 'We'd like you to design something, but we're not going to pay you anything more than a very modest amount of money.'"

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Peyton-Jones says that as the annual pavilion in the park programme became more prestigious, it got easier to convince architects to take part.

"Every year I've asked it has got better," she says. "So now we're much more confident about it."

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

Eventually, Ito designed a pavilion together with artist and structural engineer Cecil Balmond and engineering firm Arup. The structure consisted of a series of triangular and trapezoid forms, which were generated by an algorithm developed by Balmond.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 by Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond
Copyright: Serpentine Galleries

Peyton-Jones says that, although budget constraints meant the finishes weren't of the highest quality, the strength of the design ensured the pavilion was an instant hit.


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"There was very much the sense of the importance of the project in relation to its design rather than perhaps the finishes," she says. "That pavilion was the one that really made people people go: 'Wow!' It was an extraordinary project and an incredible privilege to be part of."

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

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

Dezeen will be looking back at each of the pavilions from 2000 to 2015 in subsequent movies over the following weeks. You can watch all the movies as we publish them on our YouTube playlist: