In the late 1980’s Saatchi & Saatchi devised an advertising campaign for the Victoria & Albert Museum which ran with the line “An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached.” It was frowned on by the cognoscenti, but worked very well as a way of drawing attention to the Museum and many new visitors followed.
The policy is to invite each year a world-class architect who hasn’t previously built in Britain. The chosen one is given a remarkably free hand, and an open budget, to respond to the brief. This year’s choice is Frenchman Jean Nouvel, and his response is disappointing. I found it an odd collection of structural elements, with no real logic as to their purpose other than to provide rudimentary enclosure to the spaces. It is entirely red: the structure, roof, walls, curtains, café furniture and even the waste bins. Why? What’s the ‘story’?
Nouvel said in his opening speech, "I want more disorder in this place," imagining apparently a relaxed place for people to play. Hhmm…Hyde Park has served people rather well for many years as a relaxed place to play. Need to keep the rain off? Well a marquee would have done that.
“The entire design is rendered in a vivid red that, in a play of opposites, contrasts with the green of its park setting, with the colour reflecting the iconic British images of traditional telephone boxes, post boxes and London buses” said one reviewer.
Rowan Moore, writing about this years pavilion in the Observer concludes: Few architects have the ability to be as good and as bad, at the same time, as Nouvel. He shows how far a contemporary architect can go by working almost entirely in the realm of image. He also shows that other things, like detail, and the shaping of rooms and sequences of spaces – the things he doesn't bother with all that much – do still matter.
Perhaps better suited to a French auto-route
Meanwhile Jean Nouvel now has another project under construction in London, his first permanent building, and it’s a very big building. It occupies a whole city block, fronting onto four streets, the major one of which is called New Change. The developer has named this project One New Change (after it’s postal address).
They had to struggle to get planning permission, given its size, 560,000 square feet of space, and it’s extremely sensitive location, right across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral. Construction is almost completed and it is due to open this autumn, with a mix of vast offices for 3,000 workers, and a vast collection of upmarket shops and restaurants.
The developer’s website tells us “Nouvel’s projects transform the landscapes in which they are built yet his vision places enormous importance on designing buildings that are harmonious with their surroundings”.
Indeed. It certainly transforms the landscape, and not for the better.
The Serpentine pavilion is temporary, and will be gone by October. Sadly, One New Change is very permanent.