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London's new red light district

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Will Gompertz | 12:55 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

I am sitting in the middle of Hyde Park in London where a surreal red mist has descended.

Jean Nouvel's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Everywhere I look, everyone I can see is red; I am living and breathing redness. It's like being stuck in a deep wound: troubling but at least it's warm.

Jean Nouvel, a 65-year-old French architect, is to blame for this rouge apparition. It is in his newly commissioned Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in which I am sitting.

The entire creation is red: the steel pillars, the dividing curtains, the retractable roof awnings, the chairs, the tables, the bar, the light fittings, the whole caboodle.

Jean NouvelOh, and the chess sets (with half black squares and pieces), the hammocks, the table tennis tables, frisbees, kites...

Arrgh, it's too much, I'm moving towards the natural light...

That's better. My retinas are grateful and I'm thinking heat is the least of the Devil's problems - all that redness, no wonder he is so mixed up.

And no wonder the Italians asked Jean Nouvel to design the Ferrari Factory in Modena, red being the favourite colour of both.

If I remember correctly the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, which he also designed, is replete with red too. Jean Nouvel likes red. But then so did Matisse who said, "things only become what they are when I see them with the colour red."

And that's Nouvel's point too. It is not simply about redness, but how it affects the other colours that are within its glow. The green grass of Hyde Park looks much greener, almost backlit, whereas the grey road is white as is the blue sky. This evening the light effect will be different again - more saturated, like a fauvist painting.

If you stand on the road and look towards the pavilion (at which point your eyes stop fizzing) it cuts a precise, neat shape against the gnarled tress, which has a similar effect to a person in a well tailored suit (red of course) would have walking along Brighton beach on a busy summer weekend. Order, if not restored, is at least present.

This is the tenth Serpentine Gallery Pavilion to be commission. Each year for the past decade they have asked an architect to create a temporary pavilion to sit in front of the main gallery.

Previous architects have included: Rem Koolhaas, Saana, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid. It's a roll-call of some of the world's greatest architectural talents.

What is remarkable, when you take into account the boom in new arts buildings in the UK over the past decade, is that for each of the architects it was their first completed British commission.

And for that the Serpentine should be congratulated. It's a shame though that the money has not been available to buy each pavilion for the nation at the end of its installation period at the Serpentine Gallery.

They are sold (as a way of financing the projects), but are now either in private collections or abroad.

The nine previous pavilions and now Jean Nouvel's red tenth would have made an excellent collection of contemporary architecture for the country. They could have been installed at somewhere such as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park or spread individually around the country in public parks.


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