Gazebos and pavilions offer gathering space in parks and squares. But long gone are the days of unremarkable huts. This summer, starchitects around the world are giving the traditional public structures a design makeover, using lightweight materials and fancy geometries.

Pavilions are quite common little structures. Like architectural gnomes, they nestle themselves into local parks and private gardens, giving roof cover and vantage points within our natural spaces. The power of the pavilion to engage and unify people is again being recognized by urban development authorities all over the globe – sparking a kind of renaissance led by the world’s top architects and designers.

Pavilions are evolving from their humble roots into something almost utopian. They still provide resting points for park-goers, but also serve as microcosms for testing how public space can be more sustainable, creative and human-friendly. Here are the most exciting examples of pavilions from the past year.

Most insta-worthy: Balloon Pavilion

The brainchild of Paris-based architecture and design studio Town and Concrete, this adult-sized inflatable castle is intended to be a climbable portable installation for public spaces and events made from hundreds of pink balloons. Their balloon pyramid is one of many projects developed by lead architect Cyril Lancelin that invite users to rethink their relationship to materials and the built environment.

pavilions made from hundreds of pink balloons
A lofty vision: a balloon pyramid.
Photo: Town and Concrete
inside a pink pavilion made of balloons
The structure asks you to climb and explore.
Photo: Town and Concrete

 

Most organic: wHY’s winning Ross Pavilion design

US-based interdisciplinary design studio wHY has won the 25 million dollar international competition hosted by the city of Edinburgh to reimagine the Ross Pavilion – a bandstand and garden space alongside the spectacular Edinburgh Castle. Their solution for the space is a study in bringing together history and public interest. wHY’s design draws inspiration from the symmetry and elegance of butterflies to bring lightness and beauty to a site that has been central to Edinburgh’s cultural legacy since the mid 1800’s. The space, gently integrated into the park landscape, will feature a visitors center and a café.

 bandstand and garden space alongside the Edinburgh Castle
wHY’s Ross Pavilion is seamlessly integrated into the landscape.
Photo: Malcolm Reading Consultants / wHY
the Ross Pavilion in Edinburgh
The design is inspired by the elegance of butterflies.
Photo: Malcolm Reading Consultants / wHY

 

Most eco-friendly: 2017 London Serpentine Pavilion

Inspired by a meeting point tree in architect Francis Kéré’s hometown in Burkina Faso, this “breathing” wooden structure was commissioned by London’s Serpentine Galleries for their annual pavilion commission. It is located in Kensington Gardens and features an interior courtyard, rainwater collection and irrigation systems. Open until October 8, 2017, Kéré’s pavilion will also host various events and performances for the community.

the Serpentine Pavilion in London
Kéré’s airy wooden structure can be found in London.
Photo: Flickr/ Harry Wood

Most resourceful: Garden of Destiny Pavilion in Koknese, Latvia

In honor of Latvia’s centennial, a group of local architecture studios designed this observation platform and pavilion to be built into the landscape surrounding the historic city of Koknese’s Garden of Destiny. Overlooking the park’s majestic lake, the pavilion’s unique materials and structure provide shelter from the elements while allowing a gorgeous view.

observation platform and pavilion built into the landscape surrounding in Latvia
Close to nature: the pavilion in the Latvian town of Koknese.
Photo: Maris Lapins
wooden bridge next to a lake
The view is unbeatable.
Photo: Maris Lapins

 

Most modular: Runaway in Santa Barbara, California

The winning design of the 2017 Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara’s “takepart | makeart” competition is a series of three hyper-modular chromatic structures. The piece, consisting of three brightly-colored figures, was created by SPORTS, a design and architecture studio from Syracuse, New York. The team behind the public art piece hoped to capture the “aesthetic quality” of Santa Barbara’s air using matrices of wire sheets. The installation, aptly-named Runaway, has been jumping around Santa Barbara, engaging the public to interact with the structure, city and one another.

a pink and a blue pavilion made of wire sheets
Wired, colorful, different: Runaway fascinates viewers.
Photo: Elliot Lowndes, commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara

Most impressive: CoFuFun in Nara, Japan

The rumors about massive flying saucers in Japan’s small town of Nara are true. They’re not alien spaceships however, but rather the latest designs from Tokyo-based firm Studio Nendo. Conceptualized as a project to revitalize the local community and improve tourist experiences, CoFuFun’s position at the Tenri train station means the pavilions are not only architecturally impressive, but also a destination for urban activities. Amphitheater, playground, cafe, noise-reducer and lookout-point in one, CoFuFun definitely comes in peace.

flying saucer-shaped pabilions with space for various activities inside
Comfortable meeting place on the inside …
Photo: Takumi Ota
flying saucer-shaped pavilion in Japan
… and reminiscent of UFOs on the outside.
Photo: Takumi Ota