Passion projects

Jean Nouvel reflects on a lifetime of architectural disobedience

Matt Tyrnauer's Jean Nouvel: Reflections is a meticulously conceived micro-survey of the estimable French architect's career (and an official selection at this year's New York Film Festival).

In the film's 15 minutes – beginning with a brief insight into how Nouvel's involvement in the seismic French student unrest of 1968 instilled an essential sense of disobedience in his work – Tyrnauer tracks the architect around the world, exploring the compelling ideas behind a smattering of his buildings.

Therein, he surveys the Parisian Institut du Monde Arabe; the complex interlocking discs of the National Museum of Qatar; the tri-coloured strokes of New York's 53W53 (redolent of Hugh Ferriss' intense charcoal drawings); and onto the forthcoming Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Nouvel's insight into the latter project is particularly fascinating, positing its white cupola as an 'eternal symbol' and explaining his desire for abstraction with Islamic references. The renders on show are divine, with ladders of light streaming into the cavernous enclaves of the museum halls – and especially impressive given the borderline unintelligible early sketch for the project. But then, Nouvel explains earlier in the film, 'architects are strange people, strange animals'.

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).