Jean Nouvel: A Tale of Three Architectural Wonders

Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (, and also writes a popular insider's blog


Institut du Monde Arabe

French born Jean Nouvel is one of the top architects in the world and certainly the most well known and respected in France at the moment. His bold, idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable style has won him commissions all over the world including the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the Copenhagen Concert Hall, the Dentsu Tower in Tokyo, and the expansion of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Nouvel finally won the architect world’s most esteemed prize, the Pritzker, in 2008. His most noted structures are in Paris and three have become instant modern classics.

Institut du Monde Arabe was Nouvel’s first major commission, which he won in a competition in 1981 and was completed in 1987. It was established by 18 Arab countries to unify and disseminate information about the Arab world and to convey the importance of Arab culture and spiritual values. One of the unique architectural features are the high-tech shutters that act almost like aperture shutters on a camera. They open and close at designated times of the day to bring in and filter light. It incorporates a museum, library, restaurant, and 300-seat auditorium.


Fondation Cartier

Following on the heels of the great success of the Institut du Monde Arabe, Nouvel was commissioned in 1991 to design the Fondation Cartier, an art institute created by the luxury jewelry company Cartier to house contemporary art exhibits. The glass and steel 12,000-square-foot box creates quite a statement on the quiet Boulevard Raspail in Montparnasse, lined with ornate Belle Epoque 19th century Haussmann-style buildings. An extra glass wall along the back of the museum was built to preserve and highlight a 200-year-old Lebanese cedar tree planted by politician and diplomat Chateaubriand. Half of the seven-story structure is used for exhibition space and the rest is devoted to concerts, theater, lectures and other events.


Quai de Branly Museum

The Eiffel Tower caused quite a controversy when it first opened in 1889 and it’s fitting that the Quai de Branly Museum located next door to the Eiffel Tower has again caused controversy over 100 years later. Passionately praised and criticized at the same time, the newest Jean Nouvel structure opened in June 2006, and is the first major museum to open in Paris since the Musee D’Orsay in 1986.

The Quai de Branly is a collective museum housing indigenous art and culture from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The extensive permanent collection has over 267,000 objects and 3,500 are on display.

Its most immediate striking feature is the front “living wall” of plants, which is 2,200 feet long and 130 feet high. The buildings are a hodgepodge of glass, brushed steel, and vegetation, and another architectural highlight is the 600-foot-long exhibition hall with 26 colored boxes. The well-reviewed restaurant has an incomparable view of the Eiffel Tower.

If you are a modern architecture buff, treat yourself next time you are in Paris and visit Jean Nouvel’s three architectural wonders.

Fondation Cartier
261 Blvd. Raspail, 750014
Metro: Raspail
Open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tel: 01 42 1 56 50

Institut du Monde Arabe
1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard Place Mohammed V, 75005
Metro: Jussieu
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tel: 01 40 51 38 38

Musee du Quai Branly
37 quai Branly,75007
Metro: Bir Hakeim or Iena
Tel: 01 56 61 70 00
Open Tuesday, Wednesday & Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday, Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

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