The contextualizer of light and materials

Every Jean Nouvel’s work tells a story. His biggest idea is known as “dematerialisation”, the “interplay of light and materiality”, which “gives the impression that materials have vanished”. Therefore, he talks of “fragile effects”, “fleeting moments” and “precise mists” in each of his works. Let’s discover these innovative structures by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect.

Arab World Institute, France

At Arab World Institute opened in Paris in 1987, Nouvel began to consider the question of light. The theme of light is reflected in the southern wall, which consists entirely of camera-like diaphragms, and reappears in the stacking of the stairs, the blurring of contours, the superimpositions, in reverberations and reflections and shadows.

The exterior of Arab World Institute is remarkable for its brise soleil made up of 240 light-sensitive apertures. This feature was inspired by traditional moucharabies (projecting oriel windows or enclosed balconies) used in Islamic architecture.

Opera House of Lyon, France

A series of escalators, metalwork stairways, and suspended walkways takes the public up to the entry levels of the main hall. In the auditorium itself each seat back is fitted with a small light fed from a fiber-optic cable. This technological innovation evolved from the eighteenth century, when theaters had candleholders in each seat back to illuminate the faces of the audience. Red light bathes the exterior at night, particularly under the drum of the arch enclosing the new rehearsal rooms, behind and above the peristyle of the façade. By both night and day this dense and complex building forms a new landmark for the city.

Cartier Foundation, France

The architecture is about lightness, with a refined framework of steel and glass. The glass façade of Paris’s Fondation Cartier extends past the frame of the building, creating the interplay between the structure and the surrounding landscaping.

KKL Lucerne, Switzerland

KKL Lucerne, a multiuse cultural building and convention center in Switzerland, sits on the bank of Lake Lucerne and appears to extend over the water. Two water channels divide the structure into three parts, which are connected by the roof.

City Hall of Montpellier, France

Nouvel designed the new Hotel de Ville, or city hall, for the French town of Montpellier, working in collaboration with local architect François Fontès. Located in the Port Marianne district along the Lez river, the building is awash in shades of blue and was completed in 2011.

100 11th Avenue, U.S.A

Nouvel’s 100 11th Avenue residential tower, in New York City, is located on the corner of 19th Street, and is covered in more than 1,600 panes of glass, creating a textured curtain wall.

One New Change, England

For the One New Change complex in London, Nouvel wanted to design a structure that would engage with Christopher Wren’s landmark St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is located adjacent to the new office and shopping center. The building features modern arcades and a roof terrace with 360-degree views of the city and the cathedral.

Danish Radio Concert House, Denmark

Nouvel materialized the context by creating an exceptional urban building respecting the planned layout of the site. The work is a volume, a mysterious parallelepiped that changes under the light of day and night whose interior can only be guessed at. At night the volume will come alive with images, colors, and lights expressing the life going on inside.

One Central Park, Australia

Completed in 2014, One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, includes two towers with vertical landscapes created by botanist Patrick Blanc. The 34-storey residential tower is distinguished by a cantilever with a motorized heliostat that shines light onto the park below.

Curated and aggregated by The Finest Magazine

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