What makes a pavilion? From a simple shelter in a park to a statement of innovation to the world. Discover the many different architectural pavilions in all their shapes and sizes.

A Venetian tent (1823) by Architect: John Buonarotti Papworth (1775-1847)Royal Institute of British Architects

What is a pavilion?

A pavilion can be a temporary structure, built for leisure or shelter. It can also be an annex, or add-on to a larger building, or it can be one of a group of buildings all standing together. There are different definitions and this story will explore the diverse forms and functions of pavilions around the world.

Music Pavilion (2004) by Archive PE "Belgrade Fortress" and Photographer: Dušan StojancevicMinistry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia

A pavilion may often be an open architectural structure located within urban parks, providing shelter or a platform for people to congregate or perform, like this music pavilion or bandstand.

Jing Hill, Beijing (1860)Royal Institute of British Architects

Chinese Pavilions

Pavilions can be different structures within different cultures. For example, pavilions are a familiar architectural feature across China. Beautiful open constructions in an oriental style, they are normally covered to offer shelter, with little or nothing by way of walls. Originally located by the roadside offering shelter for soldiers, they date back over 2200 years. After China was reunited under the Qin, the roadside pavilions were used for the government postmen who travelled on horseback to collect and deliver letters.

Chinese Pavilions began to feature more in gardens offering a focal point within the landscape and a resting place from which to appreciate the setting and find inspiration from the surroundings. They were often located higher up to be visible from afar and make the land appear more impressive, like this Chinese Pavilion in Beijing in the style of traditional oriental architecture.

Archer's Pavilion, Wrest Park Archer's Pavilion, Wrest ParkOriginal Source: WREST PARK

Archer Pavilion, Wrest Park, UK

The Archer Pavilion, a striking feature in the formal gardens of Wrest Park in Bedfordshire was built in 1709-11. It was designed by Thomas Archer as a garden or possibly a banqueting house for Henry de Grey, Duke of Kent. Like this example pavilions can be regal structures providing a space to enjoy a view of the gardens.

Design for a domed garden pavilion at Wrest Park, Silsoe, for the Duke of Kent: elevation (1715) by Architect: Thomas Archer (1668-1743) and Artist: Colen CampbellRoyal Institute of British Architects

This is a rare and unique example of an early eighteenth century garden building in the Baroque style. Thomas Archer was a key figure associated with the English Baroque School. He applied architectural detailing and used materials synonymous with the decorative style. 

Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery and Australian National Memorial, Fouilloy: the entrance pavilions seen from the cemetery (1999) by Architect: Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869 - 1944) and Photographer: Orsenigo-Chemollo ORCHRoyal Institute of British Architects

Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Fouilly, France

The cemetery and the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The view within this image looks towards the Stone of Remembrance, also known as the War Stone, at the entrance to the cemetery, flanked by two large portico pavilions. This is a concentration cemetery, created after the Armistice of November 1918, bringing together graves and remains from the nearby battlefields and from several military burial grounds in the area. A total of 2,142 First World War servicemen from the British Commonwealth are buried or commemorated here.

City of London Corporation pavilion, St Paul's Churchyard, City of London (1963)Royal Institute of British Architects

Pavilions like this one, which are more temporary structures, can perform a specific function within their location, and are designed to be visually and structurally striking. This example is situated within a busy part of the city of London. This structure was constructed by the City of London Corporation, within the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral.

By Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

International Innovations

International exhibitions have played host to numerous pavilions, providing an opportunity for countries to demonstrate their prowess in design construction. Our narrative on World Expos looks back on the landmark events that have made memorable architectural statements through various pavilions. There have also been general exhibitions that have been initiated to lift the spirit, with attractions and unique installations to explore.

Empire Exhibition, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow: the main avenue (1938) by Architect: Thomas Smith Tait (1882-1954) and Photographer: Bryan & Norm WestwoodRoyal Institute of British Architects

Empire Exhibition, Glasgow, Scotland

In 1938 Glasgow hosted the Empire Exhibition, a major event for the city that saw 13 million people visit its 104 principal buildings and statues, fountains and gardens. The event transformed Bellahouston Park into a landscaped site of striking modernist architecture to help boost Scotland's post-depression economy.

The whole site was designed by the architect Thomas Tait, who together with other architects constructed buildings dedicated to creating a sense of stability and resilience. The event showcased traditional Scottish brands to promote local trade and other pavilions were constructed for countries tied to the old former British Empire. It was a time of social and political uncertainty both locally and internationally and the event was intended to inspire a sense of hope and optimism.

The Dome of Discovery and the Sea and Ships Pavilion, Festival of Britain, South Bank, London (1951) by Architect: Basil Spence & Partners, Freeman Fox & Partners, Ralph Tubbs (1912-1996) and Photographer: Henry Thomas Cadbury-BrownRoyal Institute of British Architects

Festival of Britain, London - 1951

The vision for the Festival of Britain was to create an event that would foster ambition and new ideas after a long period of hardship post World War II. The Festival was a dense site of experimentation and creativity on the South Bank of the River Thames. This view features the Dome of Discovery and the Sea & Ship Pavilion, revealing a pattern of space-age structures and innovative sculptural forms. Hugh Casson, Director of Architecture said: “…it was the most exciting place in London – twenty seven acres of battered buildings and mud flats miraculously transformed into a new world”.

Ida Cason Callaway Pavilion (1958) by Grey VilletLIFE Photo Collection

Exploration in material and form

Pavilions allow architects a platform on which to experiment with different materials and test new structural forms. As temporary structures they can be testbeds for new ideas and ways of working, pushing architectural convention, structural engineering and the building materials industry.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008, Hyde Park, London: the entrance, Architect: Frank O.Gehry (1929 - ), Photographer: Luke Palmer, 2008, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008, Hyde Park, London: detail of a structural wall showing timber section, Frank Gehry, Photographer: Christopher Hope-Fitch, 2008, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
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The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion series entered its ninth year in 2008, with a unique structure by the American architect Frank Gehry. Anchored by four steel columns, it was composed of large timber planks and complex network of overlapping glass panels, creating a multi-dimensional space.  It took inspiration from a variety of sources - from summer beach huts to wooden catapults designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Serpentine Pavilion 2013, Hyde Park, London: detail of the structure, Architect: Sou Fujimoto (1971-), Photographer: Joanne Underhill, 2013, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
Serpentine Pavilion 2013, Hyde Park, London, Architect: Sou Fujimoto (1971-), Photographer: Joanne Underhill, 2013, From the collection of: Royal Institute of British Architects
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Sou Fujimoto’s pavilion rises up out of the ground like an iridescent matrix. Constructed from 20mm white steel poles in an intricate latticework pattern and occupying 350 square-metres of lawn in front of the Serpentine Gallery. The delicate structure designed as a flexible, multi-purpose social space, has a lightweight and semi-transparent appearance - similar to a cloud - that allows it to blend into the landscape. Visitors were encouraged to enter and interact with the structure at different levels. 

Fountain Pavilion with Muqarnas Dome (2013-01-01/2013-05-31) by Joachim TantauThe Prince's Foundation

Muqarnas Pavilion

Created as part of a degree project at the Prince´s School of Traditional Arts, London, the award-winning Muqarnas Pavilion was designed by architectural designer Joachim Tantau.

Fountain Pavilion with Muqarnas Dome, detail (2013-01-01/2013-05-31) by Joachim TantauThe Prince's Foundation

The Muqarnas dome consists of more than 3000 pieces of wood, all hand carved and assembled without nails or screws, just by means of wooden joints. Taking inspiration from Moroccan architecture, in particular the Muqarnas, the three-dimensional geometric pattern that forms the inside of the dome is based on traditional design principles found in Moroccan palaces, as well as in the Alhambra in Spain.

Space - DRL 10 Pavilion, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London (2008) by Architect: Alan Dempsey, Alvin Huang and Photographer: Christopher Hope-FitchRoyal Institute of British Architects

CSpace DRL10 Pavilion, Architectural Association, Bedford Sq

From a distance the structure takes the form of a smooth rounded shell, but upon closer observation you can see the numerous flat concrete and steel elements that contribute to the single continuous curved form. The design and construction of the pavilion made radical use of digital modelling and fabrication techniques to manage over 850 uniquely shaped pieces and 3,000 joints of varying angles. These elements are configured around a rib structure - this gives the pavilion the ability to reconfigure its appearance, changing the experience for visitors from within the structure.

Tate Pavilions, Tate Gallery, Millbank, London (1982) by Architect: Alan Stanton; Peter Rice (1935-1992) and Photographer: Martin CharlesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Spaces for Cultural Activity

Pavilions can be functional spaces for cultural venues or brands who need to create a temporary space for a specific programme of events of all kinds. 

Tate Pavilions, Tate Gallery, Millbank, London (1982) by Architect: Alan Stanton; Peter Rice (1935-1992) and Photographer: Martin CharlesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Tate Britain Pavilions

In the summer of 1982 the Tate Gallery commissioned architects Alan Stanton and Peter Rice to design two tents to be erected outside the gallery (now Tate Britain) to provide a temporary space for an exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of the Winsor & Newton artists paint and materials company. The tents included a painting studio, for amateur artists and a coffee shop.

British Nylon Spinners Exhibition, Gloucester: the nylon airhouse (1960) by Architect: Gourock Ropework Company and Photographer: John MaltbyRoyal Institute of British Architects

British Nylon Spinner Exhibition, Gloucester, UK 1960

This tent-like pavilion was an air house, a temporary exhibition space designed by the Gourock Ropework Co. Ltd., held up solely by a constant supply of low-pressure air. It could easily be constructed and taken down and demonstrated the product, it was  marketing in full effect.

Temporary pavilions for the 6th Congress I.U.A. (International Union of Architects) South Bank, London (1961) by Architect: Theo Crosby (1925-1994) and Photographer: Henk SnoekRoyal Institute of British Architects

The International Union of Architects Congress was held on London's South Bank in 1961. It sought a more rigorous integration of art and architecture in its demonstration pavilions and the temporary exhibition spaces designed by the multi-disciplinary architect Theo Crosby.

Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion, Tokyo (2008) by Architect:Dame Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) and Photographer: John BarrRoyal Institute of British Architects

Mobile Art Chanel Contemporary Art Container

A unique sculptural pavilion was created as an exhibition and event space for the fashion brand Chanel. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2008, the pavilion was inspired by the brand’s distinctive layering of exquisite details within an elegant, cohesive form. 

Tent in the Park, pavilion designed and located outside the Design Museum (2017) by Architect: Clementine Blakemore and Photographer: Luke HayesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Tent in the Park, the Design Museum, London, 2017

Tent in the Park was a pavilion constructed by Clementine Blakemore as part of the Designers in Residence programme at the Design Museum in London.  The Design Museum relocated from Shad Thames on the south side of the Thames to the old Commonwealth in Kensington, west London. As part of the opening programme, the young architect Blakemore was commissioned to design and construct a pavilion responding to the parabolic roof, a curved saddle like form, from the main building.

Rainforest Pavilion, Bedford Square, London (2014) by Architect: GUN Arquitectos and Photographer: Joanne UnderhillRoyal Institute of British Architects

Conceptual architecture and social statements

Pavilions allow people a unique opportunity to consider new perspectives through conceptual forms and sensationalised components to attract attention and encourage engagement, be it on an architectural level or more broadly on topical themes and social or environmental issues. 

Rainforest Pavilion, Bedford Square, London (2014) by Architect: GUN Arquitectos and Photographer: Joanne UnderhillRoyal Institute of British Architects


Rainforest a public pavilion by Chilean-German architecture practice Gun Architects, was installed in London's Bedford Square during the summer of 2014 as part of London Festival of Architecture.  Offering a forest-like environment of raindrops, pools and plants, the five-metre-high canopy formed part of the studio's ongoing research into the relationship between architecture and climate and the natural dynamics of the diverse Chilean climate.

Driftwood, AA Summer Pavilion 2009 (2009) by Danecia Sibingo and Photographer: Christopher Hope-FitchRoyal Institute of British Architects

Driftwood, 2009

Driftwood was a sculptural installation made up 28 layers of plywood, which conceal an internal renewable spruce plywood, called Kerto. Its undulating form was initially articulated through a computer-generated script and then manifest through layering, carving and eroding away at each layer of wood. This pavilion, designed by students at the Architectural Association as part of the architecture schools summer pavilion series, created a sensuous and overwhelming spatial effect.

The Hive at Kew by RBG KewRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Hive

The Hive at Kew Gardens was originally built as the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015. Designed by Wolfgang Buttress with Tristan Simmonds and BDP Architects, this giant aluminium construction gives you the experiential insight of being inside a bee colony. 

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Explore more from RIBA Collections here. 
All images are from RIBA Collections unless listed.    

Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery and Australian National Memorial, Fouilloy. Rights: ORCH / RIBA Collections 
City of London Corporation pavilion. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections Empire Exhibition, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow: the main avenue. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections 
Serpentine Pavilion 2008, Hyde Park, London. Architect: Frank Gehry. Rights: Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections 
Serpentine Pavilion 2013, Hyde Park, London. Architect: Sou Fujimoto. Rights: Joanne Underhill / RIBA Collections 
Space - DRL 10 Pavilion, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London. Rights: Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections 
Tate Pavilions, Tate Gallery, Millbank, London. Rights: Martin Charles / RIBA Collections 
British Nylon Spinners Exhibition, Gloucester. Rights: John Maltby / RIBA Collections 
Temporary pavilions for the 6th Congress I.U.A. Rights: Henk Snoek/ RIBA Collections 
Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion, Tokyo, Zaha Hadid. Rights: John Barr / RIBA Collections 
Tent in the Park, the Design Museum, London. Architect: Clementine Blakemore. Rights: Luke Hayes 
Rainforest, London. Rights: Joanne Underhill / RIBA Collections 
Driftwood, AA Summer Pavilion 2009. Rights: Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA Collections

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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