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This month’s inspirational Westbury pick is the famous French architect, Jean Nouvel…
He owns one of the largest architecture practices in France and has been responsible for a number of awe-inspiring buildings across the globe. Recognised as one of the most innovative architects of our time, Jean Nouvel designs buildings with personality. No matter what he builds, from concert halls and theatres to hotels and museums, his creations project a self-assured presence.
Architecture has to be a gift to the people who will see it. – Jean Nouvel
Established in 1994, his company Atelier Jean Nouvel has practices and offices across the world, with a talented 180-strong multicultural team of professional architects, urban designers, landscape designers, and model makers working on a number of projects at any one time. Nouvel’s designs have earned him worldwide recognition, and he has a number of awards and prizes to his name; these include a Gold RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and the prestigious Pritzker Prize, which is widely considered to be the profession’s highest honour.
Developing new concepts
Nouvel is known for trying something different every time he approaches a new project. It’s this plucky attitude to design that makes him such an innovative and forward-thinking architect, and what he lacks in a ‘signature style’ he gains in knowledge and recognition. ‘He tries things and not everything works,’ explains fellow architect, Frank Gehry. ‘There’s a mixture of things that are extraordinary, things that are experiments, things that don’t come off aesthetically. But Jean is willing to jump in and take on things and try. That’s a great quality.’
I like to play with architecture – it is my favourite game. – Jean Nouvel
Jean grew up in Fumel in Southern France. A child of two school teachers who taught Geography and English. They wanted him to be a scientist, but he wanted to be an artist. One day he went to his parents and told them he wanted to be a painter, which they forbade, so to compromise he went on to use his artistic abilities to create buildings instead.
After he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, Nouvel ranked first in the entrance examination for the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1966. He finally obtained his degree in 1972. Assistant to the architect Claude Parent and inspired by urban planner and essayist Paul Virilio, he started his first architecture practice in 1970. Not long after, he became one of the founding members of “Mars 1976”, an ideological movement that opposed the architects’ corporatism. He also went on to establish the French Architecture Union.
Famous projects across the world
Throughout his career, Nouvel has designed a number of notable and distinctive projects, including Copenhagen’s Concert Hall, the Quai Branley Museum in Paris, the One New Change shopping centre in London and the 100 Eleventh Avenue residential block in Manhattan. Here, we’ve explored some of his most significant projects:
The Guthrie Theatre
With an ‘Endless Bridge’, 178-foot cantilever, and numerous stages, the Guthrie Theatre is a hub of art and performance in the Historic Mills District of downtown Minneapolis. When the sun sets the impressive building blends into the dark blue of the sky. The outside of the building’s walls are covered in panels, which display a large mural of photographs from past plays visible clearly at night. As the sun rises, the Guthrie slowly reappears from the darkness as it sits overlooking the Mississippi.
Considered to be one of the most iconic landmarks in Barcelona, the tower’s smooth spherical shape was inspired from the nearby mountains of Montserrat. Its night-time illumination system features over 4,500 LEDs controlled by a complex computer programme that follows animated coloured sequences.
The Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum
The collections within this museum have been arranged in a radical, intercultural manner. For this highly important cultural building, Nouvel wanted to create a building that would be a meeting place, of both art and people.
With a complex interplay of light and shape, the dome building has a web patterned ceiling. The sun acts as a projector, sending rays of light streaming into the museum below. As the day progresses, the sun moves, causing singular rays of light to drift across the space, fade and reappear.
Philharmonie de Paris
Covered with interlocking bird-shaped aluminium tiles, the Philharmonie de Paris shimmers in the sunlight, reflecting the surrounding colours of the sky. With angular folds and edges, the building has a spectacular staircase which zigzags up to an elevated, sloping rooftop with a huge open space that lets up to 700 people enjoy views over the city.
As a contrasting space, the warm and comfortable auditorium features curving shapes and cascading balconies that wrap around the centre stage. The acoustics are second to none, allowing the music to reverberate around the space.
The Arab World Institute
Nouvel started working on The Arab World Institute in the 1980s, where he got the opportunity to study Arab and Islamic architecture. It’s a unique building created to promote the Arab culture in France, from art to literature and cuisine.
His design plays on geometry and light, with mechanical lenses inspired by traditional Arabic latticework in its south wall which open and shut automatically to control the interior lighting. It was this creation which brought him international fame.
During the project, Nouvel was struck by the relation of Arab architecture with geometry, and how it is often linked with abstraction. This concept has influenced every one of his buildings that has a link with the Arab culture to date.
The National Museum of Qatar
Interlocking clusters of arched discs form the external shape of The National Museum of Qatar. One of Nouvel’s most recent projects, the building has been inspired by a ‘desert rose’, which symbolises hope. Find out more in our earlier blog post about Doha, which you can read here.