A Boisterous “Colour Palace” Rises at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery

The pavilion, which sits next to John Soane’s 19th-century museum, is opening as a part of the London Festival of Architecture.

Dulwich Picture Gallery colour palace
Courtesy Adam Scott

Amid the leafy mulberry and cypress trees of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s rolling garden in south London, a psychedelic Colour Palace raises its fluorescent crown aloft. Four chunky columns—made from precast concrete rings and painted a fire engine red—hoist the cubic chromatic castle above Sir John Soane’s adjacent 19th-century building. Designed by London-based architects Pricegore and designer Yinka Ilori, the temporary structure will host such summertime revelries as yoga classes, DJ sets, dinner parties, and a neon-soaked figure drawing workshop, from June 12 until September 22.

Inaugurated in 2017, the Dulwich Pavilion is a biennial open competition organized jointly by the Dulwich Picture Gallery—the first public gallery in London—and the annual London Festival of Architecture. This year, the Colour Palace was selected by a jury and a public vote from a pool of 150 proposals submitted by emerging practices.

“It’s the best choice for our Instagram account,” jokes Ellie Manwell, pavilion project manager at the gallery. It’s true: Heads will turn and all iPhones will point toward the Colour Palace this summer, as it’s easily the most eye-popping pavilion to grace London since SelgasCano’s iridescent cocoon installed at the Serpentine Galleries in 2015.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery colour palace
Courtesy Adam Scott

At the Colour Palace, thousands of hand-painted timber rods form a kaleidoscopic pattern designed by Yinka Ilori, who drew upon the buzzing Balogun Ajeniya fabric market in Lagos, Nigeria. Spread across seven rows and soaring to a height of 32 feet, the geometry of circles and triangles is completed with basic masonry paint in ten eye-searing colors donated by project sponsor, Mylands Paints.

The sides of the wooden cladding are painted different colors as compared to its patterned front, creating the illusion that the Colour Palace is an architectural chameleon, changing hues as visitors move about the grounds. Over four miles of paint were needed to achieve this effect, plus another mile for the royal blue scaffolding framing the interior (making for a grand total of 10,000 pints). With a five-person team completing an average of 328 feet of paint per person per day, the fabricators of the project RASKL were equally diligent with the Colour Palace’s on-site assembly, which was completed in less than three weeks.

Beneath its trippy cedar coat, the pavilion’s lean metal musculature is on full display. A fiercely complex feat of engineering, the structure was designed pro bono by engineersHRW (whose director, Jane Wernick, was the project engineer for the London Eye) and includes 52 different types of brackets across as many sections. Holding the blue fir frame together are 70 short-length cables, 40 cross cables, and galvanized steel bracing that runs diagonally across the facade. “It’s about taking something very complicated and making it look very simple,” suggests Dingle Price of Pricegore.

Dulwich Picture Gallery colour palace
Courtesy Adam Scott

Stepping inside, the pavilion becomes an atrium. A hidden steel truss runs beneath a fuchsia-hued gantry tracing the perimeter of the palace’s interior; the gantry is accessible by two staircases facing off at the pavilion’s west corner. This elevated walkway offers a lookout onto the surrounding grounds, creating a theatrical spot to see and be seen throughout the summer.

The competition stipulates that the winning project must draw a connection between its contemporary architecture and Soane’s 1811 masterpiece. The Colour Palace does make an oblique reference to the Dulwich Picture Gallery through its cubic geometry but the real link is the soul of the project, which erupts with a rambunctious energy that mirrors Sir John Soane’s secret inner party animal. “We like to think Soane would love the Colour Palace if he were alive today,” grins Alex Gore.

Construction costs for the palace totaled $190,000—a $50,000 jump from the inaugural pavilion in 2015, a polite Modernist glass-and-wood structure by London practice IF_DO. Still, this is pocket change compared to Dulwich Pavilion’s big brother, the Serpentine Pavilion, whose construction costs have hovered between $630,000 and $1.3 million in recent years. (This fearsome figure is offset by the somewhat dubious presale of the pavilion prior to its construction.) Also due to be sold later in the summer (in collaboration with the estate agency The Modern House), the Colour Palace is a refreshing burst of spontaneous chromatic joy that’s worth every penny.

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