Mexican architect Frida Escobedo on her Serpentine Pavilion 2018
She's young, she's cool and she's the first woman to design the Serpentine Pavilion since the late, great Zaha Hadid. Frida Escobedo talks inspirations, cross-pollination and women in architecture today
At only 38, Frida Escobedo is the youngest architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion – one of the most prestigious architectural commissions in the world. She's also the first solo woman since the late Zaha Hadid. Did she feel the pressure on her shoulders? Absolutely. 'It's a big challenge, a big responsibility, there are some big names on this Pavilion', Frida exclaims.
Mexican architect Frida Escobedo
The big names she is referring to are her seventeen prestigious and internationally acclaimed predecessors, including Francis Kéré, Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel, as well as the artist Ai Weiwei. Since Hadid's inaugural project in 2000, the Serpentine Pavilion has been an annual commission, and a highlight of London’s art and design calendar. It has also resulted in some of the most ambitious and creative architectural structures that London has seen, and each year we have come to expect the boundaries to be pushed back that little bit more.
Frida's appointment comes as no surprise to architectural taste-makers on the pulse. Her success and innovative style, pivoted around reactivating forgotten urban landscapes, are the result of grit and a lot of determination. Born in 1979, Escobedo studied in Mexico City and then at Harvard, and founded her Mexico City-based architecture practice in 2006. 'We know how to work with simple materials and simple geometries, but in complex ways', Friday says of her creative vision. 'I have a small, but very very hard working team. We are very hard working people'.
Among her firm's celebrated projects are an Aztec-inspired Summer Pavilion for the V&A, La Tallera, the refurbishment and expansion of the home and studio of the seminal Mexican painter David Alfaro, and the chic but relaxed interiors of two Aesop shops in Florida. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yana Peel first encountered Frida's work at the Lisbon Triennial in 2013. They soon struck up a strong working relationship with the architect. Five years later, they invited Frida to submit a proposal for the Serpentine Pavilion. Now, here we are.
Serpentine Pavilion 2018
Frida's 'living timepiece' fulfills all expectations and unites material and historical inspirations, as well as Mexican and British influences. 'I'm a Mexican architect working in a British context; I think these [cultural] overlaps are inevitable [...] There is always a cross-pollination or positive contamination of cultures, and I think it makes [cultures] richer and more complex'.
The Serpentine Pavilion 2018 takes the form of an enclosed latticed courtyard, and boasts a curved mirrored canopy and a shallow 5mm triangular pool, which is aligned with the Greenwich Meridian. The rectilinear court references a celosia – a traditional perforated breeze wall commonly found in Mexican domestic architecture. Here, the perforated walls are made from a lattice of British cement tiles woven like a tapestry in a very specific fashion. 'We have added the materials of light and shadow, reflection and refraction, turning the building into a timepiece that charts the passage of the day', Frida explains. 'But at the same time it is about self-reflection. It's about seeing yourself within the space'.
For the uninitiated, many of Frida's public projects operate within a theoretical framework that addresses time, not as a historical calibration, but rather as a social operation. With the Pavilion's inner courtyard directly aligned with the Greenwich Meridian – an imaginary line that has globally defined our understanding of time since the late nineteenth century – Frida's structure is at once anchored in a local and global context. This design is paramount to the Pavilion's life expectancy. As in previous years, the Serpentine Pavilion must speak to its temporary summer home in Hyde Park, and a new non-site specific home – most likely in a private collection – after the Serpentine Summer Season.
Frida Escobedo, Serpentine Pavilion 2018
It's a very simple pavilion from the outside. It's actually one of the most sober Pavilions we've seen in years. But when you step inside, with it's glittering interiors, fragmented spaces, and trapezoidal mirror pool, it becomes really complex. 'We wanted to do something that was fresh and new but at the same time expresses the ideas at the very heart of our practice', Frida explains. 'We had to come up with something that would resolve the duality of contraction of time and space', she continues.
Frida seems to be on top of her game. Modest, affable and highly intelligent, the Mexican architect is a rising star. The Serpentine Pavilion commission will only assist her trajectory and offer the visibility and international platform she deserves. So, is this a good time to be a woman in architecture? 'Yes', Frida says, 'it is. Things are changing. Everyday you see more female led offices, but I still think there is a lot more ground to walk'.
The architect is quick to proffer an illustrative example. 'You can see in terms of equal pay we are still not there yet. I think it's good to point that out. People often ask me if I feel like this is a moment when female architects have arrived. I always say not yet'. So, I ask tentatively, what more can be done? 'The first and strongest thing we can do [is get equal pay], once we achieve that we will have made a huge improvement and can move forward'.
Over the summer visitors are invited to use the pavilion in different ways, with it providing shelter from the summer heat – or, of course, the rain. The space will also be transformed into a venue for the Serpentine's annual series of commissions by emerging artists, Park Nights. For more information on the Serpentine Park Nights programme, click here.
The Serpentine Pavilion is open from 15 June - 7 October 2018