As I was writing my latest post on London as a site of architectural experimentation, I thought of a place where you can check out cutting-edge structures in the making.
The Serpentine Galleries, with an unbeatable location in the heart of Kensington Gardens, commission every year a temporary summer pavilion by an internationally renowned architect. This project started in 2000 with Zaha Hadid (who also designed the newly opened Sackler Gallery on the opposite side of the Serpentine lake).
This year the Serpentine Pavilion is one of the weirdest ever. Designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and open until the 19th of October, it is a donut-shaped structure resembling a shell – or maybe a prehistoric egg – or maybe a UFO – with a café inside.
The Serpentine Galleries are free and definitely worth a look if you find yourself in the area.
And while in Kensington Gardens, go and look for Peter Pan’s statue – less cutting-edge of course, but with the advantage of longevity: erected more than a century ago, it will outlive many more Serpentine Pavilions.
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge
Located in the heart of Regent’s Park, Queen Mary’s garden holds one of the finest collections of roses in the country and its access is free of charge.
Going to a rose garden in the middle of September may not have been my brightest idea, but the blooms of Queen Mary’s garden were still perfuming the air.
Nearest Tube Station: Baker Street
Cities are often compared to a jungle, and we were already used to Trafalgar Square’s lions. But it seems that another exotic species is currently invading London: the elephant (which is, as you already know, one of my favourite animals – see my post on the Natural History Museum).
Over the night, two weeks ago, more than 250 pachyderms popped up throughout central London. Painted with bright colours and often flashy patterns, London’s elephants are much more eye-catching than their wild cousins, as the pictures show.
In fact, these elephants decorated by artists constitute one of London’s greater outside art venue, designed to raise public awareness of the Asian elephant conditions, which are facing extinction. The sculptures will be on display until the end of June, and then auctioned to raise money for charities working for the protection of Asian elephants.
Location: everywhere in Central London
… It’s overcrowded (though you won’t see many Asian faces) and you can’t even see the few animations organised. Going up Gerrard Street will take you 20 minutes. And don’t even try to get in a Chinese restaurant: the queue stretches long in the street.
Nearest Tube: Picadilly, Leicester Square
England is internationally reputed for its disastrous weather, and winter is no exception to this.
St james's Park under the snow
Here, snow means disturbed traffic and suspended tube lines, slippery pavement, and a white veil lightly dressing up the city. Walking in the gardens, it feels like you’re in another city.
Green Park, now White Park
St James's Park's frozen pond
Horse Guards' Parade under the snow
In December, Christmas is coming to town… always followed by its procession of decorated pine trees. This year, I’ve been a bit disappointed by Christmas decorations, which seem less exuberant than in the past years. Looking at the poor blue lights in Regent’s Street is enough to convince any one that the financial crisis is still deeply affecting London.
Similarly, the trees are less richly decorated than usual. But some of them are really huge, sometimes as tall as the buildings of the squares they embellish, and their sight is comforting when walking in the cold, dark streets.
Here is a sample:
In Covent Garden:
in Trafalgar Square:
The same at night with a choir:
A smaller one, in the Parliament’s courtyard:
And my favourite, the “Christmas elephant tree” of Selfridges!