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Ceremony Acceptance Speech

 Jean Nouvel

“My speech seems too long and a bit strange but tradition needs to be respected. My two friends Frank and Renzo explained to me that every year they have to check and approve the acceptance speech of the laureate. They cancelled part, modified and added others but I appreciate that they kept some of my original ideas ...”

As 2008’s laureate I would like to thank you, Mrs. Cindy Pritzker, for your warmth in welcoming me to the foundation you created with your husband Jay Pritzker. I would also like to thank you Margot and Tom Pritzker for the Foundation that has allowed architecture to take its luminous place in today’s culture.

Thank you to the members of the jury for acknowledging, or rather identifying me, and for understanding that, behind the man with a hundred different faces—there is only one architect. I would like to thank Frank Gehry for always putting forward and supporting my candidacy too early and for too long, and for being eventually proven right today. Many thanks to all of you for attending the thirty-year anniversary celebrations, here in Washington.

Well, here I am before you tonight. I know why: let’s make it clear: I am mad, mad about architecture ... But, I suspect many of my friends and heroes who have preceded me on this stage suffer from the same affliction. But me, I am here by mistake. My parents, both teachers wanted me to become a teacher. I wanted to be a visual artist, a painter. My parents were against this, considering it too risky. A compromise was called for: I began studying architecture at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts with the intention to go back to visual arts as soon as possible ... but passion came in the way. Very early on, I started working for Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, the former enthralled me, and the latter enrolled me. I became an architect. It is the reason why I am here tonight. My father is a doctor in history and geography, and lives with my mother in the Perigord region of France. They taught me to look, to read, to think and to express what I think. I am grateful to them for my presence here tonight, as much as I am indebted to them for my ability to question teaching at the Beaux Arts, and projects with no sense of context. It was because of them that I criticized international style, and the first universal models that were imposed on cities across the main continents. And they are also the reason why I handed in a typewritten architectural project instead of the large drawings expected of me, and stayed for six months more at the school.

That is also why I was curious enough to start reading Michel Foucault. He is probably “the greatest skeptic of our times,” believing only in the truth that lies in myriad historical facts, not in ideologies. «The theorist of dispersion and singularity», an empirical anthropologist, his work is rooted in critique. Thank you Michel Foucault, you are also a reason why I am here tonight. It is also because of you that, towards the end of the seventies, I exposed ideologies in architecture with a capital A as irrelevant, and wrote the text The future of architecture is not Architectural. It denied the idea that architecture was an autonomous discipline, and asserted the need to look outside the architectural field for the future of architecture. That is why I am here tonight, to hear from the jury that I may have contributed to the widening of this field.

I completed many projects at that time, lost many competitions, and used each project to draw up formative rules; I listed what should be done, and I listed what should not be done. The best way to resolve contradictions might be brainstorming meetings. I decided to surround myself with advisers: Jacques Le Marquet, stage-designer and author, Olivier Boissière, architecture critic and writer, Hubert Tonka, philosopher and publisher and José Miguel Iribas, sociologist. Thanks to these teams, these advisers, difficult syntheses came to life; my projects followed one after the other, always different. In no way they were the same: the method in itself calls for singularity. Thanks to them, my advisers.

It is because no two projects have resembled one another, and never will do, that I am here tonight. For each project, each achievement, I looked at the poetics of the situation. I read Gilles Deleuze, and tried to determine—through displacement—what a concept in architecture would be. I met with Jean Baudrillard and, fatally, did come across the pitfalls of fatality. In the early nineties, I gave a lecture at the Pompidou centre, “After the architectural mists have cleared”. It acknowledged the necessary acceptance of urban chaos on a planetary scale, the scale of the nebulous urban sprawl, that new historical and geographical layer encompassing the area around cities. It was the discovery of a new poetics for tracks, punctuated landscapes, networks and lights. It was a time of friendship with Wim Wenders, the realization that architecture, whatever the scale, could only, from then onwards, be modification, mutation. I now think in terms of the planet as a whole. I combine an outside and an inside perspective on the cities I work in. That is why I am here tonight.

An exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, which later toured Europe and Japan, was an opportunity for me to show the virtues of situational, contextual architecture, also as a moment of culture frozen in time. But the galloping globalization, discouraged me and then, came the emotional shock caused by the architecture of the Louisiana Museum in Denmark. Once again, I decided to speak out, express my opposition and put forward ideas.

For me, here was the living proof of a forgotten truth: architecture has the power to transcend. It can reveal geographies, histories, colors, qualities of light. Impertinent and natural, it is in the world. It lives. It is unique. It is a microcosm, a bubble. It is an expansion of our world at a time when that world is getting smaller ...

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