Jean Nouvel, winner of the Pritzker Prize in 2008, is to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion in London. For the past decade, the gallery, situated in Hyde Park, has been home to some of the most innovative pop-up structures designed by a whole raft of architectural luminaries, including Zaha Hadid, Olafur Eliasson, and Frank Gehry, whose 2008 structure of timber and glass was absolutely breathtaking.
Previous pavilions have–with the exception, perhaps, of Oscar Niemeyer and Rem Koolhaas’ designs–blended in with the Serpentine’s bucolic surroundings, particularly Japanese duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, aka SANAA, with their delicate open-sided glass and chrome structure.
Not Nouvel’s. The architect, who famously wears only black in winter, and white in summer, has gone for the brightest shade of red imaginable with his design, which incorporates a 12 meter-high freestanding wall which juts out of the ground at a hairy angle. It will be fascinating to find out what Prince Charles thinks of the temporary structure. The heir to the throne is, famously anti-modernist when it comes to architecture, and even lobbied to have Nouvel taken off his first building project in London, One New Change. Nouvel’s crimson pavilion will sit opposite one of the Royal Palaces for 100 days.
The gallery’s choice of designers for each annual pavilion is like an architectural heat meter–not least Nouvel. Despite scrapping a 100-story skyscraper for Paris’s La Défense last week due to lack of investors, the Frenchman is as hot as hot can be. His design for the Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen was described as the best there is.
When Nouvel’s Serpentine Pavilion opens, on July 5, it will host a café beneath its glass, polycarbonate and fabric structure. Visitors will be able to play Ping Pong–or Wiff Waff, as London’s mayor has renamed it (note to Mayor Johnson, looks like Ping Pong is coming home two years before the London Olympics) as well as viewing an exhibition on 21st-Century maps.
One of the best things about being chosen to design the Serpentine Pavilion is that there is an unlimited budget. The project relies on sponsors, although the Arts Council has been brought in this year: normal practice in the event of an economic downturn. But even more extraordinary: the project’s visitor numbers. Each year, a quarter of a million people enjoy the Serpentine Pavilion–about twice as many as go see the Venice Biennale.