Institut du Monde Arabe
11 quai Saint-Bernard
The Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) is the
smallest of the Grands Projets (Mitterrands 15 billion franc program to provide a
series of modern monuments to symbolize Frances central role in art, politics, and
world economy at the end of the twentieth century), housing a library, exhibits, and other
functions devoted to the relationship of Arab culture with France. It is located along the
Seine roughly at the boundary of historical Paris and a more modern urban fabric to the
southeast, the beginning of which is marked by the university building at Jussieu.
Nouvel produces a wonderfully minimal
composition of forms: a gently curving wall to the north facing the Seine comes to a sharp
and deep cleft as it meets a rectilinear block which faces a large open plaza and the
university buildings to the south. Most notable, as we would expect from Nouvel, is the
surface treatment. Along the south facade the IMA reinterprets traditional Arab
latticework screens in glass and steel: 30,000 light-sensitive diaphragms are designed to
regulate the penetration of light into the building.
The unique use of high-tech photosensitive
mechanical devices to control light levels and transparencyas well as the beauty of
the solutionmade this building famous and piqued interest in the use of
smart materials (which can respond to changing environments) in buildings. The
problem: the system no longer works. Nonetheless, the south facade is quite beautiful. The
striking south facade and the carefully orchestrated sequence between the entrance onto
the plaza and the entrance of the building set up interesting scale relationships.
Jay Berman 1998
How to visit
Take the Metro lines 10 or 7 to Jussieu. Walk
west on rue Jussieu, then north - towards to the Seine - on rue des Fosses St Bernard.
The institute is open every day except Monday,
between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and includes exhibitions and a rooftop restaurant.