Site Visit: Jean Nouvel's Paris
December 4, 2017
Written by: Laura Jaye
Photographed by: Laura Jaye
While exploring Jean Nouvel’s extensive architectural achievements around Paris, I found that even across the many decades of his experience, his works conjure similar light and ambience. From his work on L’Institut du Monde Arabe, built in the 1980s as a form of abstract Islamic architecture, to one of his most recent endeavors, Philharmonie de Paris, his emphasis on light and its relationship to the design is a constant theme.
When I approached the L'Institut du Monde Arabe, the impression from the street side of the building was lacking character. But as I turned the corner towards the main entrance, I was mesmerized by the intricate details of the glass and metal panels repeated over the entire facade.
The panels themselves, inspired by Islamic motifs, make this building particularly unique. Each panel, 240 in total, has intricate mosaic-like cutouts that act as apertures, opening and closing when the sun moves throughout the day, creating an impressive shifting facade.
As I passed through the setback entrance into the towering 100 foot interior atrium, I was stunned by the sudden change in light levels, from a bright sunny day to cool dark interior. Minimal light pierced through the cutouts and passed through the industrial staircase to fill the inner space.
From interior to exterior, Jean Nouvel’s focus on the communication between light and dark to produce an abstract expression to Islamic architecture continues to enthrall new visitors.
Unlike L’Institut du Monde Arabe, the Quai Branly Museum uses natural rather than mechanical means to play with a viewer's sense of changing perspective. The Quai Branly Museum, a museum complex housing thousands of indigenous artworks from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, was constructed in a rather unexpected setting. I wasn’t even sure I had gone to the right place, but I continued into a lush garden waiting to encounter a grand entrance for the museum at any second.
But it never appeared. Instead, glimpses of the building shone through behind an untamed garden with trees towering over the walkways. It wasn’t until I was underneath the building did I get my bearings. I was intrigued by Jean Nouvel’s unique use of the natural lighting to play against his design.
The late afternoon sun was peering behind the nearby Eiffel Tower, and shone on the southern facades while the louvered exterior shades pointed in various degrees to protect the direct harsh light from entering the galleries. The surrounding trees created shadows across every angle of the facades, giving texture and pattern to the already peculiar design. His idea to integrate the structure into the surrounding environment produced a captivating sense of discovering and wonderment to the entire experience.
The most captivating building I explored while in Paris was certainly Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris. The latest addition to a growing concert hall complex, Philharmonie de Paris’ strikingly modern appearance is hard to miss.
A long grandiose ramp greets visitors and artists alike and leads straight into the undulating metallic centerpiece and through to the music halls. The architect’s play on light changes in scale from the exterior to interior.The exterior glossy metallic and satin metal materials reflect the moody skies of Paris throughout the day. The paneled metallic cushion mimics a balloon being crushed under the weight of the top heavy building design.
But as I passed under the ceilings of the interior waiting halls, the contrasting interior lighting struck a playful mood, with individual parts floating from wire racks creating geometric patterns throughout the space.
Every detail of the Philharmonie de Paris represents Jean Nouvel’s approach to mirror the interior and exterior lighting designs to move seamlessly between spaces.
After exploring a variety of Jean Nouvel’s architectural masterpieces in Paris, I began to see why many people have followed his work throughout the world. His masterful expertise with light and shadow represents his genius attention towards detail and an understanding of the environment around him.