Jean Nouvel: Sustainable Architecture of the Future

The Pritzker Prize-winning French architect discusses sustainability, the rising level of the oceans in Miami and the need to rethink architecture as a response to a given environment.

In the West Avenue neighbourhood of Miami Beach, the latest creation by architect Jean Nouvel is taking shape. Monad Terrace, a 14-storey building, will have a man-made lagoon and a suspended vegetation screen on one side. Simon Koster and Michael Stern of New York and Miami-based JDS Development Group, invited architect Nouvel to create a “visionary” residential building. “With him, no two buildings are ever the same; Jean inspects the canvas before applying anything to it. We believe that such a collaborative process is key to sustainable design around the world,” says Koster.

“I believe in genius loci, the spirit of the place,” says Nouvel. “Here in Miami, I had to catch the meaning of the elements: the lagoon, the water, the air, the variation of the light, the presence of lush vegetation and the view. From the start, I knew the horizon had to be treated like a sixth façade and I soon realised that the materials of the sites were water, air, light and vegetation. I had to be part alchemist, to mix the right proposition of each element; and part magician, to create optical illusions on the façade. I also had to be creative to anchor the narrow site into the city; upon arrival, one will have the feeling of being directly on the lagoon. Above, every façade is unique, corresponding to a different sun exposure; inside, each apartment has its own strategy and a singular blueprint. There is no better apartment. I ensured a continuity between interiors and exteriors by imagining wide outside balconies and parallel walls of vegetation that frame the views, thus protecting each unit from outside viewers,” he adds.

Challenging the way we build is an everyday concern in Nouvel’s mind. “More than ever, sustainability is at stake,” he says. “Each era comes with its constraints, but architecture needs to timelessly respond to a given environment. We live in a world of constant and profound transformation, so architects have to radically rethink the way we build. New expressions need to reflect new paradigms and the rise of technology. We have to project our ideas far into the future, they need to stand the test of time,” adds Nouvel.

Is Monad Terrace a residential building of the future? It will definitely stand out, as an attempt to weave in natural surrounding elements. While the outside will be shrouded in greenery; from the inside, residents will look out over the lagoon and a centre courtyard through reflective glass panels, according to Stern. Residents will be surrounded by the elements, and water will infiltrate the living spaces.

“Today we have to deal with the level of the oceans rising; the city of Miami Beach is being proactive about it. When it opens in 2019, Monad Terrace will the first building built at the new flood elevation of Miami”, Koster and Stern add. The young developers wanted to build for the future and set new standards for the industry. For them, Nouvel was an obvious choice. “Architects have to regain their role as leading innovative forces,” says the architect, who is an advocate of an intelligent notion of sustainability. He adds that “applying sustainable models blindly is often counterproductive. Or counter-sustainable, I should say. Sustainability, today, should be a form of pleasure”.

The Pritzker Prize jury wrote, almost a decade ago, of Nouvel’s work: “For over 30 years, Jean Nouvel has pushed architecture’s discourse and praxis to new limits. His inquisitive and agile mind propels him to take risks in each of his projects, which, regardless of varying degrees of success, have greatly expanded the vocabulary of contemporary architecture.”


By Clara Le Fort, Billionaire

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