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Arab World Institute

Paris, France
1 of 11Flickr: Simon Gardiner

The AWI is located in the building also known as Institut du Monde Arabe, on Rue des Fossés Saint Bernard in Paris, France, constructed from 1981 to 1987 with a floor space of 181,850 square feet (16,894 sqm). Jean Nouvel won the 1981 competition with a project that proposed risk-taking solutions that, over the course of the years, have proven themselves.

The building acts as a buffer zone between the Jussieu Campus, in large rationalist blocks, and the Seine. The river facade follows the curve of the waterway and helps reduce the hardness of a rectangular block, adapting itself to the view from the Sully Bridge. At the same time the building also appears to fold itself back in the direction of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district.

In contrast, the opposite facade is uncompromisingly rectangular. Facing it is a large square public space that opens out toward the Île de la Cité and Notre Dame. Above the glass-clad storefront, a metallic screen unfolds with moving geometric motifs. The motifs are actually 240 motor-controlled apertures, which open and close every hour. They act as brise soleil to control the light entering the building. The mechanism creates interior spaces with filtered light — an effect often used in Islamic architecture with its climate-oriented strategies. This building catapulted Nouvel to fame and is one of the cultural reference points of Paris. It is also noted for receiving the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The building houses a museum, library, auditorium, restaurant, and offices.