Arab World Institute (AWI)

  • Paris, France
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A cultural position in architecture is a necessity. This involves refusing ready-made or facile solutions in favor of an approach that is both global and specific. The Arab World Institute is a showcase for the Arab World in Paris. It is therefore not an Arab building but an occidental one. The representatives of the 19 Arab states that commissioned it were surprised by it. Some had wished for something more pastiche-like, like the Paris Mosque. But certain symbolic elements pleased them, like the “moucharabiehs” whose polygons of varying shapes and sizes create a geometric effect recalling the Alhambra. From an urban point of view the Institute is a hinge between two cultures and two histories. If the south side of the building, with its motorized diaphragms, is a contemporary expression of eastern culture, the north side is a literal mirror of western culture: images of the Parisian cityscape across the Seine are enamelled on the exterior glass like chemicals over a photographic plate. These patterns of lines and markings on the same façade are an echo of contemporary art. The frontiers between architecture, interior design, and furniture design are to my mind a total fiction.


For that reason I designed the whole of the museum, including the showcases, seating, and display furniture. At the Arab World Institute I also began to consider the question of light. The theme of light is reflected in the southern wall, which consists entirely of camera-like diaphragms, and reappears in the stacking of the stairs, the blurring of contours, the superimpositions, in reverberations and reflections and shadows.



Jean Nouvel