…the south facade of the building consists of high-tech photosensitive mechanical devices which control the light levels and transparency…..
In 1980, 18 Arab countries concluded an agreement with France to establish the Arabic World Institute. The main purpose was to provide information about the Arab world and set in motion detailed research to cover Arabic and the Arab world’s cultural and spiritual values.
The design competition was won by Jean Nouvel, who is widely known for his particular surface treatment with “smart” materials, and with this kinetic facade for the Arab World Institute, he designed a facade who responds to changing environments.
To achieve this, the south facade of the building consists of high-tech photosensitive mechanical devices which control the light levels and transparency.
It interprets traditional wooden Arab latticework screens into a glass and steel construction with 30,000 light-sensitive diaphragms on 1600 elements, which operate like a lens of a camera. The changes to the irises are revealed internally far more than what can be observed from the exterior.
The unique use of high-tech photosensitive mechanical devices made this building famous in 1987. Nowadays its still widely known and hasn’t lost its futuristic impression, but the facade system no longer works. Nonetheless, the south facade is quite beautiful. The facade and the carefully planned sequence between the entrance onto the plaza and the entrance of the building set up interesting scale relationships. So its still worth to visit the Arab World Institute which is situated on the left bank of the River Seine in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, with a view of Notre Dame just down the river.
The following description is from jeannouvel.com:
“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.”
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