Spotlight: Jean Nouvel


One Central Park. Image © Murray Fredericks

One Central Park. Image © Murray Fredericks

The winner of the Wolf Prize in 2005 and the Pritzker of 2008, French architect Jean Nouvel has attempted to design each of his projects without any preconceived notions. The result is a variety of projects that, while strikingly different, always demonstrate a delicate play with light and shadow as well as a harmonious balance with their surroundings. It was this diverse approach that led the Pritzker Prize Jury in their citation to characterize Nouvel as primarily “courageous” in his “pursuit of new ideas and his challenge of accepted norms in order to stretch the boundaries of the field.”


Image via screenshot from <a href='http://www.archdaily.com/476799/video-jean-nouvel-on-arabic-architecture-context-and-culture'>"Jean Nouvel: Architecture is Listening" video by Louisiana Channel</a>

Image via screenshot from <a href='http://www.archdaily.com/476799/video-jean-nouvel-on-arabic-architecture-context-and-culture'>"Jean Nouvel: Architecture is Listening" video by Louisiana Channel</a>

After initially failing an entrance exam at the École des Beaux-Arts of Bordeaux, Nouvel studied architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, having won a national competition to attend the school. Encouraged by the anti-establishment leanings of his mentor at the time Claude Parent, as a young architect Nouvel was involved in the intellectual currents formed in the student protests of 1968, attacking the institutional education of his former school, co-founding France’s labor union for architects the Syndicat de l’Architecture, and advocating for a more forward-thinking urbanism in France via the Mars 1976 movement.


Institut du Monde Arabe. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryrory/2520002099'>Flickr user roryrory</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

Institut du Monde Arabe. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryrory/2520002099'>Flickr user roryrory</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

Nouvel first received international acclaim as an architect thanks to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, which features a screen of metallic oculi which filter light into the building and recall traditional Arabic architecture. This mashrabiya motif has become a recurring theme in his work, appearing again in projects such as his office tower in Doha and on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, currently under construction.


Doha Office Tower, Qatar. Image © Nelson Garrido

Doha Office Tower, Qatar. Image © Nelson Garrido

In other projects such as the Fondation Cartier or 100 11th Avenue in New York, Nouvel utilizes glass to create intriguing layers of transparency and reflection; in each of his works, there is typically a single dramatic light effect that unifies the building concept.


Fondation Cartier. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryrory/2520905260'>Flickr user roryrory</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

Fondation Cartier. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/roryrory/2520905260'>Flickr user roryrory</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

Since winning the Pritzker in 2008, Nouvel’s work has become ever stronger. His recently-completed One Central Park building in Sydney has been critically acclaimed, receiving the CTBUH award for the “best tall building worldwide” for 2014. He also has a number of landmark designs still in progress, including the aforementioned Louvre Abu Dhabi, 53 West 53rd Street and the National Art Museum of China.


100 Eleventh Avenue. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/shinyasuzuki/32333130260'>Flickr user shinyasuzuki</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>

100 Eleventh Avenue. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/shinyasuzuki/32333130260'>Flickr user shinyasuzuki</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>

See all of Jean Nouvel’s work on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage below those:

Jean Nouvel on Architectural Eroticism and His Battles to Complete Buildings Correctly

Light Matters: Mashrabiyas – Translating Tradition into Dynamic Facades

VIDEO: Jean Nouvel on Arabic Architecture, Context and Culture

Watch Jean Nouvel Explain the Design Process Behind his Most Recent Projects in New Documentary

Jean Nouvel’s Tower Verre Finally Ready to Break Ground

Watch the Louvre Abu Dhabi Perimeter Flood

Venice Biennale 2012: Meeting Lines / Ateliers Jean Nouvel + Habiter Autrement (Mia Hägg)

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