PARIS — I wonder if people would have suspected that something was wrong with French architect Jean Nouvel’s $364 million concert hall had he not sued.
Above image: Photographs by Danica O Kus.
The ultra-modern Philharmonie de Paris, built early in 2015, keeps revealing new visual tricks the longer one looks at it. The ceramic tiles turn into a flock of flying birds, leading to a large, metallic volume that reflects its surroundings during the day and glows with a cool blue light at night. You might be admiring the thick, angular columns supporting this volume only to realize that the underside is covered with a harsh, but satisfying texture of thin, metal spines. You could turn this building over again and again and find something new to focus on, it seems.
The problem is that Nouvel is very unhappy with it. It’s unfinished, he claims. In April last year, The Telegraph reported that the star architect lost his court case to have his name taken from the building. The language he used in the filings sounds like it was written by a caricature of an artist with a bruised ego:
He claimed that the inauguration of the building was “premature” and claimed a breach of his moral rights.
The result, he said, displayed “contempt for architecture, for the profession and for the architect of the most important French cultural program of the new century”.
He petitioned to have his name and image removed from all references to the work.
‘The architecture is martyred, the details sabotaged,’ he wrote in a blistering editorial in Le Monde, ‘so taxpayers will have to pay, once again, to correct these aberrational decisions.'”
Why was the architect upset? Dezeen reports that his project narrowly escaped being cut for budget reasons. I had to double-check the numbers, but apparently he was $208 million over budget, almost two thirds of the final cost. According to Nouvel, he still wasn’t done. Not wanting to be martyred along with his building, he refused to attend the opening and sued to have his name taken off the project. Unfortunately for his studio, the court ordered he didn’t provide enough documents to argue his side of the case.
It seems counter productive to sue in order to distance yourself from a work you’re not happy with. It seems even more counter-productive to write an editorial about the failure for Le Monde, one of the most widely-known newspapers on the planet. If the building were not safe, that would be a different story, but this is clearly a fight about pride. Nouvel wanted to make his disavowal of the project public.
I’m reminded of the Streisand effect, the law governing unintended consequences. It is impossible for an architect to remove himself from a building that consumes so much skyline, a building that literally announces itself with a bright light. By publicly condemning the work, untrained eyes that may have visited the concert hall and noticed nothing will now be searching the building for flaws and probably seeing them everywhere, even in features Nouvel was otherwise satisfied with. The architect’s lawsuit cements the building in failure, almost mocking anyone who may have dared to enjoy it. It’s like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on and it’s the architect’s legacy, not the “martyred” concert hall, that suffers the most.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe this work of contemporary ceramics? Let us know in the comments.