Four decades, 784 pages, 600 photos, 85 projects, a coffee-table format measuring 41.2x29.8 cm and weighing 5.75 kg. Such is the monumental scale and ambition of a monograph that expounds on the trajectory of an icon of contemporary architecture.
Big numbers and dimensions aside, the ‘by Jean Nouvel’ in the title is worth a thought, for what we have is an intimate, introspective reflection on his own work, and from the first page – with the large portrait of him staring at the camera – he strikes up a dialogue with the reader, with no go-betweens.
By way of an introduction the book offers a text by the editor, Philip Jodidio, that makes a lengthy, detailed analysis of the prolific career of one of the leading creators of our time, followed by a brief manifesto in which Nouvel himself examines his preoccupations and his proactive architectural philosophy.
Then comes a selection of key works, which are presented through a generous and unique series of photographs and illustrations arranged chronologically, starting with his early Parisian buildings – such as the Institut du Monde Arabe or the Fondation Cartier – and moving on to international commissions, including the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the National Museum of Qatar, and the Louvre of Abu Dhabi. Almost impressionistic, this is definitely the most personal chapter, where photography predominates over text, mirroring a society whose narratives are written with images. Jean Nouvel here writes with images.