Julia Peyton-Jones on leaving the Serpentine Gallery and her architecture pavilion legacy

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Julia Peyton-Jones on leaving the Serpentine Gallery and her architecture pavilion legacy
© Greg Funnell

The London art world won’t be quite the same after July 8. That’s the day Julia Peyton-Jones is finally taking her leave of the Serpentine Gallery where she has been director since 1991. Over 25 years, she has overseen a programme that, bearing in mind the organisation’s relatively diminutive scale, has punched well above its weight with exhibitions that have included everything from Helen Chadwick’s unforgettable bubbling chocolate fountain to Marina Abramović’s 512 hour-long endurance test/performance piece.

Not least of Peyton-Jones’ legacy, though, will be the pavilions which have appeared yearly on its lawn since 2000, when she asked her friend Zaha Hadid to create a temporary construction as part of the festivities for the gallery’s annual fund-raising gala (the same event that, famously, was attended in 1994 by Princess Diana on the night that Charles announced the error of his marital ways).

With a remit to present architecture in the same way as an art exhibit, and to invite world-class practitioners who had not previously built in London, Peyton-Jones has presented such luminaries as the Dutch Rem Koolhaas, and Japan’s Toyo Ito and results have varied from Jean Nouvel’s red Perspex box filled with table tennis tables to Sanaa’s sublime polished steel shelter.

In 2003, it was the turn of the great Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, then aged 94. “I loved him,” say Peyton Jones. “We went to Rio for several planning meetings. He had an incredible studio, but he drew at a little desk in the corridor and had a tiny office, an inner sanctum that could take four people at the most.” He built a white tent-like structure reached by a gorgeous red ramp. […]