Buildings and Projects by Jean Nouvel

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One Central Park, Sydney

Vertical Gardens at One Central Park in Sydney, Australia
Vertical Gardens at One Central Park in Sydney, Australia. Photo by James D. Morgan / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

French architect Jean Nouvel has no style. Defying expectations, the 2008 Pritzker Laureate experiments with light, shadow, color, and—vegetation. His works have been called exuberant, imaginative, and experimental. This photo gallery presents some highlights of Nouvel's prolific career. Jean Nouvel IS style.

In 2014 a remarkable residential building opened in Sydney, Australia. Working with the French botanist Patrick Blanc, Nouvel designed one of the first residential "vertical gardens." Thousands of indigenous plants are taken a-flight inside and out, making "the grounds" everywhere. Landscape architecture is redefined as heating and cooling systems are integrated into the building's mechanical systems. Want more? Nouvel designed a cantilever high-end penthouse with mirrors beneath—moving with the sun to reflect light to the disenfranchised plantings in the shade. Nouvel is truly an architect of shadow and light.

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100 11th Avenue, New York City

Top view of Nouvel's residential tower, with lights on in a few units.
by Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Jean Nouvel An early evening view of architect Jean Nouvel's residential tower at 100 11th Avenue. Photo by Oliver Morris/Getty Images

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote that "The building clatters; it jangles like a bracelet." Yet standing directly across the street from Frank Gehry's I.A.C. Building and Shigeru Ban's Metal Shutter Houses, 100 Eleventh Avenue completes the Big Apple's Pritzker Laureate triangle.

About 100 at 11th:

Location: 100 Eleventh Avenue, in the Chelsea area of New York City
Height: 250 feet; 21 floors
Completion: 2010
Size: 13,400 square meters net floor area
Use: Residential condominiums (56 apartments and restaurant)
Architect: Jean Nouvel

In the Words of the Architect:

"The architecture diffracts, captures and watches," says architect Jean Nouvel. "On a curving angle, like that of the eye of an insect, differently-positioned facets catch all of the reflections and throw out sparkles. The apartments are within the 'eye', splitting up and reconstructing this complex landscape: one framing the horizon, another framing the white curve in the sky and another framing the boats on the Hudson River and, on the other side, framing the mid-town skyline. The transparencies are in keeping with the reflections, and the textures of the New York brickwork contrast with the geometric composition of the large rectangles of clear glass. The architecture is an expression of the pleasure of being at this strategic point in Manhattan."

Sources: Project Description on Jean Nouvel website and the Emporis website [websites accessed July 30, 2013]; Surface Tension by Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, November 23, 2009 [accessed October 30, 2015]

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Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain

Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain, Jean Nouvel, architect
by Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Jean Nouvel Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain, Jean Nouvel, architect. Photo by Hiroshi Higuchi/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images (center crop)

This modern office tower overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, which can be seen through the glass elevators.

French-born Jean Nouvel drew inspiration from Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí when he designed the cylindrical Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain. Like much of Gaudí's work, the skyscraper is based on the catenary curve - a parabola shape formed by a hanging chain. Jean Nouvel explains that the shape evokes the mountains of Montserrat surrounding Barcelona, and also suggests the shape of a rising geyser of water. The missile-shaped building is often described as phallic, earning the structure an assortment of off-color nicknames. Because of its unusual shape, Agbar Tower has been compared to Sir Norman Foster's "Gherkin tower" (30 St. Mary's Axe) in London.

Agbar Tower is constructed of reinforced concrete sheathed with red and blue glass panels, reminiscent of the colorful tiles on buildings by Antoni Gaudí. At night, the exterior architecture is brilliantly illuminated with LED lights shining from more than 4,500 window openings. Glass blinds are motorized, opening and closing automatically to regulate temperature inside the building. The exterior shell of glass louvers has made climbing the skyscraper an easy task.

More About Agbar Tower:

Use: Agüas de Barcelona (AGBAR) is the water company for Barcelona, handling all aspects from collection to delivery and waste management
Completed: 2004; grand opening in 2005
Architectural Height: 473.88 feet (144 meters)
Floors: 33 above ground; 4 below ground
Number of Windows: 4.400
Facade: brie-solei (brise soleil) sun shading louvers extending from colored security glass window panels; some south-facing materials are photovoltaic and generate electricity

In the Words of Jean Nouvel:

This is not a tower, a skyscraper, in the American sense. It is a more an emergence, rising singularly in the center of a generally calm city. Unlike slender spires and bell towers that typically pierce the horizons of horizontal cities, this tower is a fluid mass that bursts through the ground like a geyser under permanent, calculated pressure.
The surface of the building evokes water: smooth and continuous, shimmering and transparent, its materials reveal themselves in nuanced shades of color and light. It is architecture of the earth without the heaviness of stone, like a distant echo of old Catalan formal obsessions carried by a mysterious wind off the Monserrat.
The ambiguities of material and light make the Agbar tower resonate against Barcelona's skyline day and night, like a distant mirage, marking the entry into the diagonal avenue from the Plaça de les Glorias. This singular object will become the new symbol of Barcelona the international city, and become one of its best ambassadors.

Sources: Torre Agbar, EMPORIS; AIGÜES DE BARCELONA, Sociedad General de Aguas de Barcelona; Jean Nouvel, Description of Torre Agbar, 2000-2005, at [accessed June 24, 2014]

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Arab World Institute in Paris, France

Arab World Institute in Paris, France by Jean Nouvel Atelier
The Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) or Arab World Institute (AWI). Photo by Yves Forestier / Sygma / Getty Images (cropped)

Built between 1981 and 1987, the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), or the Arab World Institute, is a museum for Arabian art. Symbols from from Arabian culture combine with high-tech glass and steel.

The Arab World Institute has two faces. On the north side, facing the river, the building is sheathed in glass which is etched with a white ceramic image of the adjacent skyline. On the south side, the wall is covered with what seems to be moucharabieh, the kind of latticed screens found on patios and balconies in Arab countries. The screens are actually grids of automated lenses used to control light.

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Wall With Metal Lenses at the Arab World Institute

Detail of the facade of l'institut du monde Araba designed by architect Jean Nouvel
Detail of the facade of l'institut du monde Araba designed by architect Jean Nouvel. Photo by Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us / Corbis News / Getty Images (cropped)

Automated lenses along the southern wall of the Arab World Institute control light entering the interior spaces. The aluminum lenses are arranged in a geometric pattern and covered with glass. In addition to serving a practical function, the grid of lenses resembles mashrabiya—latticework found on patios and balconies in Arabian countries.

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Interior View of Metal Lenses at the Arab World Institute

1981-87, Paris, France
by Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Jean Nouvel Interior view of the metal lenses at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA or Arab World Institute). Photo © Georges Fessy, courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel

To regulate light entering the Arab World Institute, architect Jean Nouvel invented an automated lens system that operates like a camera shutter. A computer monitors external sunlight and temperature. Motorized diaphragms automatically open or close as needed. Inside the museum, light and shadow are integral parts of the design.

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Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, France

Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, France 1991-94
Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, France by Jean Nouvel, architect. Photo © George Fessy, courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel

The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art was completed in 1994, only two years before the Quai Branly Museum. Both buildings have glass walls dividing the streetscape from the museum grounds. Both buildings experiment with light and reflection, confusing the inner and outer boundaries. But the Quai Branly Museum is bold, colorful, and chaotic, while the Cartier Foundation is a sleek, sophistocated modernist work rendered in glass and steel.

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Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jean Nouvel, architect.
Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jean Nouvel, architect. Photo by Herve Gyssels/Photononstop/Getty Images

Architect Jean Nouvel experimented with color and light when he designed the nine-story Guthrie Theater complex in Minneapolis. Completed in 2006, the theater is shocking blue by day. When night falls, the walls melt into the darkness and enormous, illuminated posters - giant images of actors from past performances - fill the space. A yellow terrace and orange LED images on the towers add vivid splashes of color.

The Pritzker jury noted that Jean Nouvel's design for the Guthrie is "responsive to the city and the nearby Mississippi River, and yet, it is also an expression of theatricality and the magical world of performance."


  • Design: Architectural Alliance in collaboration with Jean Nouvel
  • Size: 250,000 square feet
  • Stages: main thrust stage (1,100-seat); proscenium theater (700 seat); experimental area (250 seat)
  • Location: Historic Mills District on the banks of the Mississippi River

Learn More:

SOURCE: Architectural Alliance, accessed April 15, 2012.

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Renovation of the Opera in Lyon, France

National Opera of Lyon Renovation by Architect Jean Nouvel
National Opera of Lyon Renovation by Architect Jean Nouvel. Photo by JACQUES MORELL / Sygma / Getty Images (cropped)

Jean Nouvel's renovation of the Opera House in Lyon builds upon the old building.

The grand first floor façades of the Opera House in Lyon are the base for a dramatic new drum roof. The arched glass windows give the building a jeweled appearance that is both modern yet compatible with the historic structure. The building is now also known as the Nouvel Opera House, after the architect.

History of the Opera House

  • 1756: original opera house designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot
  • 1831: larger opera house by Antoine-Marie Chenavard and Jean-Marie Pollet
  • 1993: French architect Jean Nouvel enlarged the 1831 building by adding the large glass roof and a multi-level basement


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Quai Branly Museum in Paris, France

1999-2006, Paris, France
by Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect Jean Nouvel Quai Branly Museum in Paris, France. Jean Nouvel, architect. Photo © Roland Halbe, courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Completed in 2006, the Musée du Quai Branly (Quai Branly Museum) in Paris appears to be a wild, disorganized jumble of colorful boxes. To add to the sense of confusion, a glass wall blurs the boundary between the outer streetscape and the inner garden. Passersby cannot distinguish between reflections of trees or blurred images beyond the wall.

Inside, architect Jean Nouvel plays architectural tricks to highlight the museum's diverse collections. Concealed light sources, invisible showcases, spiral ramps, shifting ceiling heights, and changing colors combine to ease the transition between periods and cultures.

About Musée du Quai Branly

Other Name: Musée des Arts Premiers
Timeline: 1999: Project submitted to competition and winner announced; 2000-2002: Studies and consultation; 2002-2006: Building (excluding special foundations)
Foundation: caisson
Façade: dark red curtain wall of aluminum and wood
Style: deconstructivism

In the Words of Jean Nouvel:

"Its architecture must challenge our current Western creative expressions. Away, then, with the structures, mechanical systems, with curtain walls, with emergency staircases, parapets, false ceilings, projectors, pedestals, showcases. If their functions must be retained, they must disappear from our view and our consciousness, vanish before the sacred objects so we may enter into communion with them....The resulting architecture has an unexpected are very large and very transparent, and often printed with huge photographs; tall randomly-placed pillars could be mistaken for trees or totems; the wooden sunscreens support photovoltaic cells. The means are unimportant—it is the results that count: what is solid seems to disappear, giving the impression that the museum is a simple façade-less shelter in the middle of a wood."

Sources: Musée du Quai Branly, EMPORIS; Projects, Quai Branly Museum, Paris, France, 1999-2006, Ateliers Jean Nouvel website [accessed April 14, 2014]

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40 Mercer Street, New York City

Industrial-looking apartment building at 40 Mercert St. in NYC
Jean Nouvel's 40 Mercer Street, NYC. Photo © Jackie Craven

Located in the SoHo section of New York City, the relatively small project at 40 Mercer Street posed special challenges for architect Jean Nouvel. Local zoning boards and a landmarks-preservation commission set rigid guidelines on the type of building that could be constructed there.