Jean Nouvel arrived on the architectural scene with his 1986 Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, a brilliant synthesis of high technology and traditional forms. At a moment when the fragmented, careless values of postmodernism seemed omnipresent, Nouvel produced a building that had both meaning and sensitivity, particularly in the context of a country with a large number of Arab citizens. This sensitivity had perhaps been influenced by his studies in Paris in the late 1960s and the political engagement among students which culminated the events of May 1968; Nouvel says that this period enabled him to clarify his sense of the legitimacy of architecture and the integrity of design. Today Jean Nouvel is one of the most potent forces in architecture anywhere in the world.
Jean Nouvel is recognized for the clarity, elegance, and extraordinary conceptual imagery that characterizes his work. He has created a stylistic language separate from that of modernism and post-modernism, and buildings that go beyond cultural constraints. He places great importance on harmonizing a building with its site and surroundings. Another theme unifying the entirety of his projects is a beautiful interplay of transparency, opacity, shadow, and light. Nouvel is considered one of the founders of the high-tech school of architecture and uses materials like aluminum, glass, stainless steel and concrete, but he adopts a softer, more poetic approach than his British colleagues. His internationally acclaimed projects include the Institut du Monde Arabe,
1987 in Paris, the Nemausus Residential Complex at Nîmes
, 1987, the Thermes Hotel and Spa
at Dax, 1992, the restructuring of the Lyon Opera House,
1993, the Tours Conference Center
, 1993, the Cartier Institute
in Paris, 1994, the Euralille Commercial Center
at Lille, 1994, and Galeries Lafayette
in Berlin, 1996.
Jean Nouvel was born in Fumel, in southwestern France, in 1945. He was tempted to become a painter, but finally decided to study architecture instead. He started his studies in Bordeaux and then moved to Paris in 1966 to enter the architecture course at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The political activism in Paris in the late 1960s was crucial to his development and approach to architecture. Nouvel says that this period enabled him to clarify his own perception of the legitimacy of architecture and the integrity of design.
The Institut du Monde Arabe, won by Nouvel in competition in 1982 and completed in 1986, was the project that lifted him to the international status he now enjoys. The northern facade faces towards Paris and its historic monuments. The southern side of the building looks towards the Orient with its mobile moucharabieh, original work that reconciles technology and tradition. The Cartier Foundation, built in 1994, has also become an important part of the Parisian landscape and a touchstone in the capital’s city planning. A glass partition runs along the boulevard, isolating the garden and including in the architecture the cedar of Lebanon planted in 1823 by the site’s predecessor, François René de Chateaubriand. The ground floor exhibition space, composed entirely of glass partitions, opens onto the garden by means of sliding walls.
Nouvel’s current projects include the new corporate headquarters for Dentsu Corporation at a site overlooking Tokyo Bay. This 48 storey boomerang-shaped structure encased entirely in glass is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2002. Among other large projects in process are Museum of Primitive Art at Quai Branly, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and a theatre complex for Minneapolis.
Nouvel conceived and directed the Paris Biennale d’Architecture in 1980. Nouvel became the vice-president of the Institut Français d’Architecture in 1991, and has been an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects since 1993.