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Jean Nouvel Storms Pompidou. (View).

There could be no better tonic for winter gloom than the unabashed, no-holds-barred celebration of Jean Nouvel's architecture on show until 4 March in Paris at the Pompidou Centre. Yet the exhibition has not been given star billing on the Pompidou Centre's Piazza frontage. Heads should roll.

A huge portrait photograph of Jean Nouvel has been placed in what might best be described as Beaubourg's level +6 arrivals and departures lounge, where the route to his exhibition is indicated by a line-up of video screens displaying the same talking head -- Nouvel's -- discoursing on six different themes. "These images may not be kind, but they do show I am no longer a young architect', remarks the real-life Nouvel, 'young architects do not inspire much trust or confidence, so the idea here is to show what I have become'.

Perhaps taking his cue from turn-of-the-century Parisian brothels, Nouvel has transformed the 1100m top floor gallery space at his disposal into a sequence of enfolding, dimly-lit ambiences that pulsate with verve, warmth and joie-de-vivre. Once past the ticket check-point, visitors are plunged into near darkness. A very shiny black floor melts into black walls enlivened by illuminated bands of small colour slides: views of Nouvel buildings, arranged in no particular order, to illustrate the range and diversity of his built oeuvre to date, complemented by sequences of larger images projected very dimly overhead.

There follows a reddish labyrinth of recent projects : gynomorphic competition schemes for the Guggenheim temporary museum of art, Tokyo (2001) and for the Museum of Human Evolution, Burgos (2000), the overtly phallic Aguas tower, Barcelona (1999), more sober designs for the Richemont headquarters, Geneva (2001), a brash motorway-hugging complex for Brembo, Bergamo (1998) and the lyrical winning scheme for the future museum on Quai Branly, Paris (1999) among many others.

Nouvel's ideas for two urban design competitions he is particularly sore to have lost - Stade de France, Saint-Denis (1994) and Seine Rive Gauche, Paris (1993) - are presented, complete with sound effects, in what he describes as the exhibition's 'polemic spine' - a narrow, corridor-like space linking the two halves of the labyrinth and other exhibits.

Nearly half the entire exhibition space is devoted to projecting stunning sequences of slides showing selected Nouvel buildings, or parts of them, almost full-size. There is plenty of space here to promenade or sit on the floor.

A little further on, the Nouvel office is evoked by a white-washed room equipped with tables, chairs and computer terminals giving access to all manner of information. Video explorations of completed buildings are on display here and the office personnel - which now includes language teachers - is represented by a rogues' gallery of mug-shots stretching all along one wall.

Sadly, these mug-shots are not reproduced in the exhibition catalogue (Jean Nouvel, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2001, [euro]37). It is a lavish piece of publishing - four sorts of paper, double and triple gatefolds, copious colour photographs and drawings - intended to provide a visual record of the exhibition. Texts are relegated to special narrow pages, so they are all the easier to ignore - a factor that probably makes this publication doubly attractive to architects.

As to Nouvel, he has already moved on. When last seen, he was presenting the French Secretary of State for Housing with a project for low-cost loose-fit houses with gardens in Mulhouse. Drawn up in conjunction with four other teams of architects - Shigeru Ban &Jean de Gastines; Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal; Duncan Lewis, Potin & Block; and Matthieu Poitevin - the scheme amounts to a manifesto for a more enlightened approach to subsidized housing in France.
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Title Annotation:exhibition at Pompidou Center features works of architect, France
Author:Ellis, Charlotte
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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