When you design a building, how do you approach its relationship to the urban context?
Architecture that does not interact with its surroundings and does not act as a foil for the existing features around it only does half the job. In all my buildings I try to create a “situational poetic.” The Fondation Cartier reproduces the line of the boulevard, creates a sense of ambiguity about the wall that might almost belong to an office building, emphasizes the presence of the cedar, and makes it possible for the building itself, which is much bigger than all the others on the street, to remain consistent with the existing urban scale.
Transparency is a recurring feature of your architecture. What does it express?
It has to do with the question of matter. The big issues today revolve around questions about the essence of matter. We know that some very fundamental things happen in the realm of the invisible. Transparency doesn’t only mean showing things through something else. It means we use a material called glass, and that it is one of the only materials that can be programmed by light. I mean, if I shine a light in front of it this creates a reflection, and if I light it from behind, it will disappear. It is a means of capturing instants in time, the changing light of day and of the seasons. At the Fondation, the temporary exhibitions modify the building and become a source of speculation for passers-by. For the By Night exhibition, it was all black, for être nature, it was completely transparent, and Issey Miyake turned it into a gigantic display window. Each time, something happens that changes the nature of the building and relates directly to what it is being used for.
Jean Nouvel was born on August 25, 1945 in Fumel. He originally wanted to be a painter, but in 1964 he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux as an architecture student. In 1966 he was admitted to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, with the highest score in the competitive entrance exam.
Intellectually influenced by architects Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, Nouvel founded his first agency with François Seigneur in 1970.
In 1971 he obtained his DPLG architect´s diploma and met critic Georges Boudaille, thanks to whom he was appointed official architect of the Paris Biennale. In 1976 he met set designer Jacques le Marquet, who introduced him to the world of theatre and stagecraft. He was later to turn his hand to exhibition design, working on the architecture and design section of the exhibition Les Années 50 at the Centre Pompidou in 1988, and on the exhibitions The Future of Work and Mobility for Expo 2000 in Hanover.
Jean Nouvel is co-founder of the French architecture movement Mars 1976 and the French Architects´ Union. He is one of the main participants in the international competition for the renovation of Les Halles in Paris. In 1980 he founded the Biennale de l´Architecture as part of the Paris Biennale.
Today he is President of the Association pour la Mutation de l´île Seguin, a pressure group campaigning for the future of the island on the Seine where the main Renault factories were formerly located.
Photo © Gaston