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L'Institut du Monde Arabe
Paris, France

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Designed in 1987 by noted French architect Jean Nouvel, L'Institut du Monde Arabe (the Institute of the Arab World) is a modern jewel beside the bank of the Seine river in the heart of Paris, a short walk over the bridge from Notre Dame Cathedral and the nearby Centre Pompidou. Assembled in an elegant high-tech style with an expressionist flair, the building is expressed in two parallel masses separated by a long narrow slot, one mass with a long curve following the sweep of the river-edge boulevard, the other wing, rectangular in plan, enfronting a broad courtyard. These are connected by underground space, which also extends beneath the plaza.

The Institute complex includes a museum, library, auditorium, restaurant, offices, and parking. Glass and steel stairs and elevator provide an elegant internal orienting feature. Its unique courtyard-facing south facade is ornamented by the regular patterns of hundreds of solar-activated mechanical diaphragms. The collective effect of these high-tech stainless steel irises is a rich optical brocade, strongly but abstractly evoking the beautiful patterns of traditional Arabian weaving. This metal sunscreen integral to the curtain wall provides active sun screening.

As one of the Grand Projets for Paris championed by former French President Francois Mitterrand, the Arab Institute commission was won by competition. The completed building won a prestigious Aga Kahn award for architectural contributions to Islamic culture.

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