Architect Jean Nouvel capturing the soul of furniture

'Jean Nouvel: Mes Meubles d'Architectes. Sens et Essences' at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, until 12 February 2017

December 2016

French architect Jean Nouvel has been designing furniture since 1987. Nearly three decades on, his architecturally inspired objects are being showcased at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Many of Nouvel's pieces are displayed among the museum's collections from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the 17th and 18th centuries. It's an affirmation of his desire to situate his work within the history of the decorative arts. Significantly, the exhibition is taking place nearly two decades after Nouvel redesigned the museum's graphic design and advertising galleries in 1998.

“I'm showing different scales of architecture and how designing furniture is about capturing the unity, soul and personality of an object,” says Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Pritzker Prize and best known for designing the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Fondation Cartier and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Nouvel has created over 100 objects, starting with five prototypes for VIA out of aluminium, which ran counter-culture to the materials being used in design in the 1980s. In 1995, he set up Jean Nouvel Design to accompany his architectural practice and develop elementary objects characterised by functionality and rigour.

Part of Nouvel's motivation was to create furniture for his buildings. Indeed, the show opens with his elegant Less table designed for the Fondation Cartier in 1994 and the even lighter Less Less table which followed nearly 20 years later. Towards the end of the exhibition is his black leather seating for viewing artworks in the future Louvre Abu Dhabi, due to open next year.

What emerges is Nouvel's collaboration with numerous manufacturers (Molteni&C, Ligne Roset, Roche Bobois, Poltrona Frau, Artemide...) and his commissions from hotels – including the L'Ombre du Palmier (2008) lamp for Hotel Catalonya in Barcelona.

Nouvel has also made several limited edition pieces for Gagosian and Galerie Patrick Seguin, such as his Triptyques (2014) – large, alluring, coloured glass mirrors, and his elongated Table au Km (2011).

A new collaboration on view is Nouvel's floor and ceiling proposal Pointillism Ground, made from woven vinyl and in rhythmic lines, for Swedish company Bolon. “I used Bolon's products in the Musée du Quai Branly, we became friends and the project grew out of that,” Nouvel says.

Images: installation view, by Anna Sansom