This summer, the green grass lawn of London’s Serpentine Gallery will host a vision in red. The famous contemporary art space has selected Pritzker Prize–winning French architect Jean Nouvel to design its 10th annual pavilion. In contrast to last year’s (2008), Rem Koolhaas (2006), and Oscar Niemeyer (2003). As in previous years, engineering firm Arup will be providing its services.
The commission has no budget, but is paid for each year by sponsorship and the eventual sale of the finished structure, which has never accounted for more than 40 percent of the cost. This year, Arts Council England is supporting the pavilion through its Sustain program.
Standout details of Nouvel’s pavilion include a 40-foot-high freestanding wall that juts into the air at a precarious angle. Retractable awnings and glass, polycarbonate, and fabric enclosures create a flexible indoor/outdoor space to manage London’s variable summer weather. The architect also incorporated outdoor ping pong tables into the design, adding an element of playfulness.
“Ping pong is one of the national sports of France,” said Hans Ulrich Obrist, assistant director of the Serpentine Gallery. “The incorporation of these into the design reinforces the fact that this is architecture for all.”
The most moving aspect of the design for Nouvel, however, is apparently the color red. The following is the architect’s statement on the project, reprinted in full:
“I’ve always considered architecture as a receptacle for sensations. As the answer to an unspoken question, architecture’s main role is to create and transmit these sensations. I immediately felt the Serpentine Gallery’s commission for a summer pavilion as a request to unearth little sparks of emotion. A summer pavilion in a sprawling park… Oriental memories float to the surface. Hyde Park, Kensington: the simplicity and openness of these gently tamed expanses. Green grass as a backdrop. Stretches of leafy trees creating depth of field. An aura of calm freedom floats in the air. For me, each project is preceded by an exciting question: what can I do here that I can’t do somewhere else? What small pleasures can I propose for such a simple request? This is a tantalizing trail, discarding the thousand and one trivial temptations along the way: Too banal! Too vulgar! Too pretentious! Too predictable! Too conventional! Not mysterious enough! Then emotion steps in with a word-desire that opens the floodgates: DAZZLING… contrasting… complementary… RED… red is complementary (to green)… FLEETING SUMMER… use summer… the sun… STARE AT THE SUN… filter the sun… a red filter… red as a conductor… RED SUN… a red glow… a red screen… a windbreaker… in the red… A HAZE OF RED… like closing your eyes against the sun… BLURRED… without end… see green through red… filter… sift… RED EXPLODING AGAINST GREEN… green against red… INCORPORATE THE MYTH OF RED… mythical red objects get lost in the grass… familiar objects too… red berries, vegetables, flowers… red and more red… landscaped infiltrations of red… night time… THE RED NIGHT… dense and mysterious… like in a photo lab… hibernating to come alive in summer…
“The seed is planted. The birth of the project is assured. Now it’s just a matter of architecture.”