WAN's Tessa Schubert takes a tour around Jean Nouvel's Serpentine Gallery and finds it’s a lot of fun
Today saw the grand opening of the 10th annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, designed by world-renowned French architect Jean Nouvel – his first completed building in the UK. The Pavilion commission has become an international site for architectural experimentation and follows a long tradition of pavilions by some of the world’s greatest architects. The immediacy of the commission – a maximum of six months from invitation to completion – provides a unique model worldwide.
A tall and sturdy figure, Jean Nouvel appeared in his slick black suit and sunglasses to stroll about and welcome everybody, but also seemed keen on inspecting his structure. Pulling on this, tugging at that, he appeared to be checking everything’s in order. The design for the 2010 Pavilion is a contrast of lightweight materials and dramatic metal cantilevered structures. The entire design is rendered in a vivid red that, in a play of opposites, contrasts with the green of its park setting. The colour reflects the iconic British images of traditional telephone boxes, post boxes and London buses.
Of his new structure, Nouvel explained: “I wanted to add something here, if possible, perhaps not necessary, but one needs to be a little optimistic, a new exercise in the way of art and architecture. Art for me is to feel sensations, emotions and here I wanted to catch some of those things, when I see the sun through the red glass, I feel. The red has a strong energy, an optimism and is complementary of the green park, which you can see and feel all around you.”
Everything inside is in red, from the red Smeg fridges behind the bar, to the Frisbees haphazardly strewn across the grass. One finds various objects scattered around, almost pieces of art in their own right, such as smooth spongy mattresses, foam chairs and bar stools with cycling pedals as foot rests, ping pong tables and chess boards; all of which are available for the public to play with throughout the summer months. This is Nouvel’s playful approach to the pavilion, making it a place to relax and enjoy the outdoors, be it picnicking, a game of draughts or lying reading blissfully in the shade.
The building consists of bold geometric forms, large retractable awnings and a freestanding wall that climbs 12m above the lawn, sloping at a gravity defying angle. Striking glass, polycarbonate and fabric structures create a versatile system of interior and exterior spaces. “I love the play of light through the different materials, the fabric, the glass, and plastic, mirrors placed here and there reflecting scenes of the landscape, partnered with the viable geometry” Nouvel explains. To combat the sun beating down on you, the roof opens and closes, and the pavilion takes on the feel of a shaded terrace. This also intensifies the red inside, augmenting the green outside, yet another of Nouvel’s play on light and colour, further evoking feelings and sensations as part of the experience.
Julia Peyton-Jones, Director of The Serpentine Gallery describes the pavilion as a ‘red structure trembling in this royal park, embracing the idea of play. When you are inside the pavilion looking out, the green of the park is so strong and vibrant, you are embraced by it’.
The flexible auditorium will accommodate the Serpentine Gallery café and an extensive programme of events throughout the summer including films, talks, and the Gallery’s Park Nights programme which culminates in the 5th Serpentine Gallery Marathon: The Marathon of Maps for the 21 Century on 16 and 17 October.