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Institut du Monde Arabe
11 quai Saint-Bernard
Paris 5e

The Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) is the smallest of the Grands Projets (Mitterrand’s 15 billion franc program to provide a series of modern monuments to symbolize France’s 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 transparency—as well as the beauty of the solution—made 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.

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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.



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