Jean Nouvel in Icon Magazine

I’m going to Denmark in a few days, for a few days, and as I’ll be visiting Louisiana Museum of Modern Art where an exhibition on Jean Nouvel is held, I got myself the August issue of Icon magazine, which has an article on the French architect by Marcus Fairs.


Nouvel likes to think that sensitivity to to context – cultural, geographical or architectural – is one of the defining themes of his work.


“I was really shocked by the International Style,” he says, referring to his student days. “When I arrived at the school of Beaux Arts it was always the same recipe, always the same thing, in every city, in every condition. But I like specificities. I have worked 30 years now in this way, identifying the specificity, researching the connections with the local culture, with the climate, with the client. And if you research always these specificities, you generally don’t do the same building twice.”

A paragraph later:

Nouvel’s philosophy of specificity reached its maturity with the Institute du Monde Arab – a building that offered architecture a way out of the dead end of post-modernism, while proving that a building could be modern without having to be Modernist.

(I’m not quite sure I follow this, but it sounds good.)

But he then went on to baffle the critics by striking out in different directions with each subsequent project.

Nouvel describes how his current project, the Quai Branly museum in Paris, is “singular”, how it relates to a couple of different contexts, of which he names two: the program (“which is the indigenous civilisations in America, Australia and Africa”), and the curve of the Seine. “You cannot imagine that I could put this building in another place. It would make no sense.”

The picture1 shows his Torre Agbar tower in Barcelona, which “a wealthy client from Qatar saw [...] and asked Nouvel to design an identical building,” which would be against Nouvel’s principles. The construction of the new building has just started, and Fairs writes in the article that “it is not a singularity,” that it “bears a clear resemblance” to the Barcelona tower. Nouvel rejects this, and says it’s an adaptation in a different context.

I like this philosophy, although I’m in no position of taking a stand as to whether it is singular or not.

Apparently, Nouvel likes theoretizing. He has written a book on singular objects together with Jean Baudrillard, The Singular Objects of Architecture, and according to Fairs, he “employs two intellectuals in his office to stimulate project development.”

Lastly, I don’t know if this is his definition of architecture, but it is what he says about what he thinks about generic architecture, where buildings look the same anywhere in the world:

“[...] For me, architecture is a modification. A little modification of a landscape, a part of a city, a complement to other buildings, a testimony of an epoch and so on. It’s not a kind of sculpture.”

1 Picture taken by Carlos A Sarria, found on Flickr and published under a Creative Commons license.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 23, 2005. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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