Beach cafe, billionaire’s retreat, wedding marquee: second lives of the Serpentine pavilions

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Beach cafe, billionaire's retreat, wedding marquee: second lives of the Serpentine pavilions
Zaha Hadid’s Serpentine pavilion in 2000, top, and at Flambards theme park near Cornwall in the present day

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Beach cafe, billionaire's retreat, wedding marquee: second lives of the Serpentine pavilions
Zaha Hadid’s Serpentine pavilion in 2000, top, and at Flambards theme park near Cornwall in the present day

As the Serpentine Gallery prepares to open its annual summer pavilion, dusting off the champagne flutes for its glitzy VIP receptions next week, the first ever pavilion in the 15-year-old programme is playing host to a parallel summer party of a rather different kind. Three hundred miles south-west, in a far-flung corner of Cornwall, the zig-zagging roof of Zaha Hadid’s experimental marquee is providing an unusual shelter for an under-12s’ fancy dress ball.

“I admit it’s looking a bit sad and sorry for itself, but it has served us well,” says Michael Enright, managing director of Flambards theme park in Helston, where the pavilion now stands between a fibreglass model of Humpty Dumpty and the Shiver Me Timbers adventure playground. Shrieks of terror rain down from the teetering tower of the nearby Skyraker ride, while more screams come from dangling chairs, whirling from a carousel above a bucolic backdrop of rolling fields.

As just another tatty marquee in a jumbled landscape of peaked tents and ageing geodesic domes, the former Serpentine pavilion is barely recognisable as the futuristic origami structure that landed in Kensington Gardens in 2000. Its white canvas roof is sagging and stained, its formerly transparent walls replaced with crumpled sheets of silvery PVC.

“It’s quite a challenge to maintain,” says Dean Woods, the park’s entertainment co-ordinator, as he sets up for the afternoon’s I’m a Celebrity Bug Eating Challenge, laying out bowls of insects on a stage decorated with plastic jungle ferns. “Because of all the different angles in the roof, as soon as I’ve fixed one bit, then the water ponding shifts to another area.” He has fitted makeshift yellow plastic gutters and added poles to prop up the roof, while a Wall’s ice-cream bin on top of the chipboard dressing room keeps the ceiling from caving in behind the stage. []

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