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Jean Nouvel's Je Ne Sais Quoi: 5 Facts From a New Feature

French architect Jean Nouvel. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

There's something quintessentially—or at least, stereotypically—French about labeling Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel an enfant terrible. It's almost too easy to paint the unorthodox and indulgent creative mind, one who who has the gall to bring a client to court for not conforming to his blueprints, with such a rhetorical brush, as if he's somehow an outlier in the small circle of starchitects. Fair or nor, a recent New York Magazine feature provides a picture of Nouvel's life and creative process in the wake of the controversy over the Paris Philharmonie and the opening of the luxury high-rise 53W53 in New York, allowing readers to make that call themselves. Here are five facts from the piece we found fascinating.

He's not a morning person
The startchitect's staff doesn't see him until mid-day, since he spends mornings in bed problem-solving and designing in his head. "I wake up, perform my little ablutions, then get back into bed with my eye mask on and my earplugs in, and I work. I imagine. I visualize" In addition, he can spend up to a third of the year at the Côte d'Azur for long-term séminaires de brainstorming.

The Parisian-to-a-fault architect is a go-to Interpreter of Arabic architecture
With a resume including the successful Institut du Monde Arabe, an ahead-of-its time design featuring a mechanized screen with apertures that dilate based on the amount of light hitting the building, Nouvel is a top choice for creating Arabic buildings and cultural institutions. He's currently working on an Islamic museum for New York's Park Place that would be a follow-up of sorts to the Ground Zero mosque.

"We're in an epoch of savagery."
Nouvel complains about the way much of today's architecture, controlled by developers, isn't site-specific. He terms these generic pieces "parachuté."

He seems a lot more relaxed about New York Zoning laws
When the forced redesign of his 53W53 tower is brought up—a planning commisioner cut 200 feet off the top—he seems to shrug, saying that architecture is the art of utilizing constraints.

Architecture was a fall back
His parents, both teachers, steered him away from painting into the "more stable" life of an architect.

Nouvel's Multimillion-Dollar MoMA Condos Come With Museum Perks [Curbed New York]
Jean Nouvel to Paris Concert Hall: Don't Use My Name [Curbed]
See Starchitects Behaving Badly in a New Documentary About a Doomed Museum Competition [Curbed]