LONDON: Summer In the Park with Jean (Nouvel)

London’s parks come alive in summer, with outdoor concerts and theater, picnics and parties. One eagerly awaited annual treat is the Serpentine Pavilion, a temporary structure commissioned by a 40-year-old art gallery that named for a sinuous lake in Kensington Gardens. Over the past decade, some of the world’s top architects have contributed, and this year’s it’s Jean Nouvel, a Frenchman acclaimed for his museums in Paris and—opening in 2013—a branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. Here, Nouvel celebrates the freedom of London parks, so different from the manicured parterres of Paris, with a symphony in scarlet that intensifies the greenness of lawns and foliage. Carpet, walls and canopies are all as red as a London bus: an all-weather enclosure with retractable awnings and curtains to provide shade and shelter for a lively public program. Through October 17 you can catch a free concert or lecture, play chess or ping pong (on scarlet tables), and enjoy an English tea. At least one program will run all night and you can have your heartbeat recorded for the archive of artist Christian Boltanski.

Design aficionados should head south to the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London’s greatest repositories of decorative arts, for a temporary exhibition, Architects Build Small Spaces, which runs through August 30. Seven firms, from Norway to Japan, were invited to place a tiny structure within the museum, juxtaposed with permanent installations. The contrasts are surreal. A cast of Michelangelo’s David peers over a recreation of a narrow roadside dwelling from Mumbai. A Japanese tea house on stilts, accessed by a ladder, shares a corner with a medieval staircase. At the threshold of the National Art Library is a three-story book tower composed of inward-facing shelves. It’s a treasure hunt to find all seven structures, so you’ll need several hours to climb inside each of these miniatures and savor the museum’s own displays.

Midway between pavilion and museum is the Royal Albert Hall where the BBC Prom Concerts are presented, every night through September 11. Some of the world’s top orchestras and soloists perform in this beloved summer series. The rambunctious last night is always oversold, but you can usually pick up tickets for other events at short notice.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb

Michael grew up in London and now lives in a classic modern apartment in Los Angeles. His twin passions are architecture and travel, and he indulges both as often as he can, exploring every continent in search of material and inspiration. His travel memoir, Moving Around: a Lifetime of Wandering (ORO Books, October) recalls memorable experiences of people and places over seven decades. Michael is the author of 28 other books, most recently Architects' Houses. He has written on travel and design for The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Virtuoso Life, Monocle, Architectural Digest and other publications
around the world.
Michael Webb

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