Copyright: Morley von Sternberg/RIBA Library Photographs Collection (2001)
Jean Nouvel epitomises French architecture: stylish, raw, inspirational and innovative. But there is also a mischievousness about the architecture, as there is about the man. He is never content to return to past glories, great though they are.
After receiving international acclaim for his Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Nouvel has maintained the highest of architectural standards with an international body of work including the Lyon Opera House, the New Palace of Justice in Nantes and the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Cultural and Congress Centre in Lucerne and the extension to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
Peter Cook’s citation includes the following sentences: 'Jean Nouvel is simply a wonderful designer. In an age of blandness, imitation or doubt, his work shines through as having both clarity and finesse, originality and lyricism ...
'In his buildings, his ability to render the layering of glass, the undulation of a building's profile or the weaving of filtered screens can only - and rarely - be matched even in Japan. In the Arab Institute in Paris the delicacy of mechanical screens is contrasted with the clarity of a sharp, glass diagram. Also in the mid 1980s he created one of the most poetic essays in metal: the deceptively modest Hôtel de Saint-James near Bordeaux.
'The Opéra at Lyon achieves a completeness that would daunt any lesser designer. Such élan can be found in the sweeping form of the conference centre of Tours, or the shimmering glass matrix of the Fondation Cartier in Paris which introduces a play between the delicacy of fine strips of metal, the layers of surrounding trees and the continual trompe-l'œil potential of reflected glass.
'But it is probably the Cultural and Congress Centre of Lucerne that has convinced even the doubters of Nouvel's superb abilities with both overall form and detail manipulation.
'His work is haunting.'
'The range of his work is compelling, both in terms of language and in building type, from social housing to hotels. He puts as much care and conceptual rigour into a low-budget hotel as he does the more glamorous end. He is ready to take on anything.'