Contemporary architecture in Paris

Posted on September 14, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Institut du Monde Arabe

Institut du Monde Arabe


If you were asked to think of contemporary architecture in Paris, what buildings would pop up in your head? La Defense? Pompidou Centre? Louvre's Pyramid? Unlike London, contemporary architecture is not as visible, but they are there, slightly hidden in various parts of Paris. And the architect who contributed most to the contemporary architecture landscape in Paris is no doubt the Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel.

Although glass is often the predominate feature in Nouvel's architecture, he also likes to use light and nature to create a harmonious balance with their surroundings. In the centre of Paris, we can find his critically-acclaimed and groundbreaking designs for three different arts and cultural organisations:


Institut du Monde Arabe


Institut du Monde Arabe/ The Arab World Institute ( 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005) on the Left Bank by the Seine was constructed from 1981 to 1987 in conjunction with Architecture-Studio after winning the 'Grands Projet' architecture competitions. This beautiful glass building has a museum, a library, a shop, a cinema, an auditorium, a restaurant and offices. Inspired by the traditional Moorish screen, Nouvel designed an intricate lattice of photosensitive apertures, which open and close to modulate the light that enters. Visitors can visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions on the 5th and 7th floor.

I have always enjoyed my visits here, not only for the Islamic/Oriental theme exhibitions, but I also like the slightly futuristic interior. Normally, I am not a big fan of glass and glossy architecture, but here, the use of traditional Arabic architectural elements, geometric shapes and light sensitive apertures are original and innovative. Although the building is already 27 years old, it does not look dated, which is rare if you compare it with some of the architecture being built around the same time.


foundation of cartierfoundation of cartierfoundation cartierfoundation cartierfoundation of cartierfoundation cartier foundation of cartierfondation cartier

Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain 


Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain/ Fondation Cartier ( 261 boulevard Raspail 75014) is one of my favourite contemporary art venues in Paris. Not only the exhibitions here are often highly inspirational, the architecture here is another big draw. Opened in 1994, Nouvel worked with landscape artist Lothar Baumgarten to create a very tranquil environment with use of light, space and nature.

As you approach the site, the glass and steel building is hidden behind a glass facade with trees 'poking' out onto the streets. The reflection of the trees on the glass creates an illusion that intrigues passerby and makes you wonder what is actually inside. And even when you are inside the building, you feel as if you are in the middle of a woodland because you are surrounded by trees and plants.

The unique garden created by Theatrum Botanicum, a term used the Middle Ages where monks would take inventory of medicinal and aromatic plants. Unlike other landscape garden, it is created to look 'wild' and 'natural' which depicts the notion of passing time, with an emphasis on seasons and years. 


Musée du quai BranlyMusee du quai Branly Musée du quai BranlyMusée du quai BranlyMusée du quai Branly Musée du quai Branly

 Musée du quai Branly


At Musée du quai Branly ( 37, quai Branly 75007) near the Eiffel Tower, Nouvel continued his exploration between architecture and landscape except that glass is not used as the main material of the building. Instead we see a row of disorganised jumble of colorful boxes on the museum's exterior. Opened in 2006, the museum is dedicated to indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

Again, the museum itself is hidden from the street behind the very tall glass panelling. And beyond the glass facade is a 'wild' garden with very tall trees and plants that evoke a sense of a maze designed and planted by landscape architects, Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc. The garden even extends onto the exterior of the building next door where a 200m long by 12m high vertical garden can be viewed from the street by passerby.

I like the fact the visitors have to walk up the circular ramps to get to the exhibition area and while the lighting inside is very dim, I think it adds a sense of mystery related to the subject matter. I think the artifacts and objects at this museum are absolutely fascinating, of which many are related to France's colonial past. Personally, I think the overall project is visionary and highly commendable, and best of all, Nouvel's design complements the contents and concept perfectly.


Cité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du Design Cité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du DesignCité de la Mode et du Design Cité de la Mode et du Design

Cité de la Mode et du Design


In 2012, an intriguing and eye-catching green structure appeared on quai d'Austerlitz by the Seine. This odd-looking structure is the facade of Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design ( 34 Quai d'Austerlitz, 75013), which occupies a 1907 shipping depot and now houses the Institut Français de la Mode, shops, designer's showrooms, temporary exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, a bar lounge and a nightclub.

The building was designed by architect Jakob + MacFarlane in 2004 for a competition held by the city of Paris. The architects have kept the concrete structure mostly intact but added a glass covered steel tube green structure to the side of the building which is highly visible from the opposite side of the river. The roof top has wooden decks and grassed areas with plants created by landscape gardener Michel Desvignes.

Although I like what the architects have achieved (esp. the spacious rooftop), I found the venue itself very confusing... there are different sections on each floor but most of them were closed when I was there. I wandered around but I didn't see a lot of fashion or design related stuff here, I honestly have no clue what this venue is about.


Cité de la Mode et du Design Cité de la Mode et du Design graffiti parisCité de la Mode et du Design

The Paris equivalent of London's Southbank undercroft at Cité de la Mode et du Design


However, the biggest surprise came when I saw a group of skaters practising in the concrete skate park full of graffiti ( and homeless people). I never realised that there is an equivalent of London's Southbank undercroft in Paris and I love it!

I was so glad when the Southbank's proposal to move the skate park was rejected. I am appalled by what has been happening to the landscape of London in recent years... if we don't intervene, London will soon become a homogeneous city consisted of only Westfield shopping malls, chained coffee shops restaurants ( it is already heading towards this direction). Hence, to see a skate park created here in Paris demonstrates that the French still value arts and culture ( including sub-culture) over commerce.

N.B. If you want to support the Southbank skateboard community, you can find out more on Long Live Southbank or Save Southbank skatepark Facebook page.


 Le campus de Jussieu


Another Parisian architecture firm Peripheriques architectes has been leaving their footprints in Paris' contemporary urban landscape in recent years. The firm won the competition to design the extension for the campus of Universitaire de Jussieu in 2002, which was eventually completed in 2006. The metal facades are glazed on the same pattern as the one on the existing building. Although I did not get the opportunity to go inside of the building, I am impressed by the photos of the interior/atrium seen on their website.

The firm was also involved in the 133-acre redevelopment project, ZAC Clichy-Batignolles by the City of Paris ( which I mentioned in the earlier post) in the 17th district. The firm has created an eco-friendly building which includes 117 housing units on Rue Cardinet in 2012. The low energy consumption building ( 50 kWh/m2 per year) has a textured metal protection as an insulating layer on its exterior and it overlooks the eco-friendly Parc Martin Luther King.


parisparis parisparis

Eco-friendly housing on Rue Cardinet, part of the ZAC Clichy-Batignolles regeneration project


When the entire project is completed, it will provide 3,400 housing units with at least 50 percent dedicated to public housing, 30 percent of units for sale, and 20 percent set aside for rent. Other firms involved in the project include many big names like Renzo Piano ( Palais de Justice is due to complete in 2017), Jean-Paul Viguier architecture, Babin+Renaud, Scape and MAD etc. This regeneration project is Paris' most ambitious ad exciting one in recent years, and if we look at the success of London's regeneration of Kings Cross, then there is much to look forward to.

This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Paris, Design, French design, Contemporary and was tagged with paris, French design, Jean Nouvel, contemporary architecture