Jean Nouvel by Clara Strehle

Jean Nouvel, born in Fumel, France, in 1945, is a french architect who, since his graduation from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris, in 1972, became one of the most influential and commissioned architects of the time.

Nouvel is an architect of concept, context, experimentation, and contrast; he accounts this very analytical style to the time period he was raised in when Structuralism was the leading cultural movement. Thus, he is known for his strikingly distinctive and wildly diverse pieces of work which all have a unique personality of their own through combining the history and build up of the culture and landscape it is positioned in, with the desires of the client. In Nouvel‘s words: “Every time I try to find what I call the missing piece of the puzzle, the right building in the right place“1. His architectural works are, no matter how diverse in style, poetic in appearance within their framework and achieve this bondage through the play of light and reflection in the frequent use of, what he calls it “nothings“ – mirrors, glass, transparents, etcetera. This leads to one of Nouvel‘s major themes in is work: dematerialization. An example of such would be the Cartier Foundation pour l‘Art Contemporair, built in 1994 on Boulevard du Raspail in Paris. Its glass walls, which are the same height as the surrounding buildings, simulates its nearby environment by a multiplication of images through reflection; the limits disappear and an ambiguity of what is outside and inside is left. The spectator discovers an architectural virtuality due to the many different faces the building can take. One‘s emotions are evoked and is left with a choice. Nouvel plays with sensation, he reverses intermediate relations, for example: interior and exterior. The material is of no more matter in his pieces and simply becomes a mean of production, which is in contradiction with classical architecture. Another example of such “virtual architecture“ is the Institut du Monde Arabe, built along the Seine next to the Ile Saint – Louis and next to the very modern campus of Jussieu university, in 1987. The building has two completely different facades which both correspond to its surroundings and the traditions of the Arab architectural culture – geometry and light. The northern facade is made out of fritted glass, capturing the skyline on the other side of the Seine, and is situated along with the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The south facade, on the other hand, interprets, in a mixture of glass and steel, traditional Arabic latticework screens. In addition, Nouvel went further out of the box and invented a machine that would control the amount of light in the building he figured to be best, most expressive, and according to the sunny conditions of Arabic countries. Again, this architectural masterpiece reveals Nouvel‘s “visual architecture“ in which he combines history with modernism, dematerializes the building through using “nothings“ in combination with light, and creates emotions within the spectator through his sensuous play.

Nouvel once said in a lecture, held at the convent of La Tourette, 1995: “Architecture is the production of images. We must stop thinking of space only in terms of three dimensions, in order to enter the time of perception.“2.

1 Pogrebin, Robin. “Jean Nouvel – Pritzker Prize – Architecture –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., 31 Mar. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2010. <>.

2 Jean Nouvel. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofía, 2002. Print.


“Institut du Monde Arabe Paris by Jean Nouvel.” galinsky. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>.

“JEAN NOUVEL – ATELIERS.” JEAN NOUVEL – ATELIERS. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>.

Jean Nouvel. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofía, 2002. Print.

“Jean Nouvel – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>.

LUBOW, ARTHUR. “Jean Nouvel – Profile – Architecture – Pritzker Prize – Art – Design –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>.

POGREBIN, ROBIN. “Jean Nouvel – Pritzker Prize – Architecture –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>.

“jean nouvel, interview with the french architect.” designboom. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <

front facade


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