I smell Jean Nouvel before I see him. That’s some aftershave coming round the corner. Not that he needs it. Nouvel requires nothing to augment his physical presence. Large, bulky, dressed, as usual, all in black (it’s all white when he retreats to his place outside Nice), bald, with a beady, bleary-eyed, crow-like face and a nose that could spear you. And the most incredibly expressive eyebrows in architecture. At 64, he resembles an ageing bouncer, a mean old baddie from a Luc Besson thriller or a long-retired prop from the French rugby team. Others have, somewhat inevitably, compared him with Dr Evil in Austin Powers. He crushes my hand. “Enchanté,” he growls. I’m not quite sure that he means it.
The architecture mimics the man. You can expect something forceful from his Serpentine Gallery Pavilion when it opens in Kensington Gardens in a month’s time. This annual addition to the summer season, in its tenth year, has produced many things — Rem Koolhaas’s tethered balloon, Frank Gehry’s explosion in a lumber yard — but it has never before seen a red plastic playground. It’s very plastic and very, very red.