Archive for March, 2008

Jean Nouvel wins Pritzker Prize

Jean Nouvel, the bold French architect known for such wildly diverse projects as the muscular Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the exotically louvered Arab World Institute in Paris, has received architecture’s top honor, the Pritzker Prize.


Mr. Nouvel, 62, is the second French citizen to take the prize, awarded annually to a living architect by a jury chosen by the Hyatt Foundation. His selection is to be announced Monday.

“For over 30 years Jean Nouvel has pushed architecture’s discourse and praxis to new limits,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation. “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.”

In extending that vocabulary Mr. Nouvel has defied easy categorization. His buildings have no immediately identifiable signature, like the curves of Frank Gehry or the light-filled atriums of Renzo Piano. But each is strikingly distinctive, be it the Agbar Tower in Barcelona (2005), a candy-colored office tower that suggests a geyser, or his KKL cultural and congress center in Lucerne, Switzerland (2000), with a slim copper roof cantilevered delicately over Lake Lucerne.

“Every time I try to find what I call the missing piece of the puzzle, the right building in the right place,” Mr. Nouvel said recently over tea at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo.

Yet he does not design buildings simply to echo their surroundings. “Generally, when you say context, people think you want to copy the buildings around, but often context is contrast,” he said.

“The wind, the color of the sky, the trees around — the building is not done only to be the most beautiful,” he said. “It’s done to give advantage to the surroundings. It’s a dialogue.”

The prize, which includes a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion, is to be presented to Mr. Nouvel on June 2 in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Among Mr. Nouvel’s New York buildings are 40 Mercer, a 15-story red-and-blue, glass, wood and steel luxury residential building completed last year in SoHo, and a soaring 75-story hotel-and-museum tower with crystalline peaks that is to be built next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown. Writing in The New York Times in November, Nicolai Ouroussoff said the Midtown tower “promises to be the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation.”

Born in Fumel in southwestern France in 1945, Mr. Nouvel originally wanted to be an artist. But his parents, both teachers, wanted a more stable life for him, he said, so they compromised on architecture.

“I realized it was possible to create visual compositions” that, he said, “you can put directly in the street, in the city, in public spaces.”

At 20 Mr. Nouvel won first prize in a national competition to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. By the time he was 25 he had opened his own architecture firm with François Seigneur; a series of other partnerships followed.

Mr. Nouvel cemented his reputation in 1987 with completion of the Arab World Institute, one of the “grand projects” commissioned during the presidency of François Mitterrand. A showcase for art from Arab countries, it blends high technology with traditional Arab motifs. Its south-facing glass facade, for example, has automated lenses that control light to the interior while also evoking traditional Arab latticework. For his boxy, industrial Guthrie Theater, which has a cantilevered bridge overlooking the Mississippi River, Mr. Nouvel experimented widely with color. The theater is clad in midnight-blue metal; a small terrace is bright yellow; orange LED images rise along the complex’s two towers.

In its citation, the Pritzker jury said the Guthrie, completed in 2006, “both merges and contrasts with its surroundings.” It added, “It is responsive to the city and the nearby Mississippi River, and yet, it is also an expression of theatricality and the magical world of performance.”

The bulk of Mr. Nouvel’s commissions work has been in Europe however. Among the most prominent is his Quai Branly Museum in Paris (2006), an eccentric jumble of elements including a glass block atop two columns, some brightly colorful boxes, rust-colored louvers and a vertical carpet of plants. “Defiant, mysterious and wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love,” Mr. Ouroussoff wrote in The Times.

A year later he described Mr. Nouvel’s Paris Philharmonie concert hall, a series of large overlapping metal plates on the edge of La Villette Park in northeastern Paris, as “an unsettling if exhilarating trip into the unknown.”

Mr. Nouvel has his plate full at the moment. He is designing a satellite of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, giving it a shallow domed roof that creates the aura of a just-landed U.F.O. He recently announced plans for a high-rise condominium in Los Angeles called SunCal Tower, a narrow glass structure with rings of greenery on each floor. His concert hall for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation is a tall rectangular box with transparent screen walls.

Before dreaming up a design, Mr. Nouvel said, he does copious research on the project and its surroundings. “The story, the climate, the desires of the client, the rules, the culture of the place,” he said. “The references of the buildings around, what the people in the city love.”

“I need analysis,” he said, noting that every person “is a product of a civilization, of a culture.” He added: Me, I was born in France after the Second World War. Probably the most important cultural movement was Structuralism. I cannot do a building if I can’t analyze.”

Although he becomes attached to his buildings, Mr. Nouvel said, he understands that like human beings, they grow and change over time and may even one day disappear. “Architecture is always a temporary modification of the space, of the city, of the landscape,” he said. “We think that it’s permanent. But we never know.”



Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s tribute to Jackie Kennedy

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy ...Britain's Queen Elizabeth (R) and France's first lady ...France's first lady Carla Bruni, wife of France's President ...Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, ...

Unsurprisingly, given Nicolas Sarkozy’s stature, there were no signs of this summer’s vertiginous wedge sandals or clothes befitting ‘une croquese d’hommes’, or man-eater, when France’s First Lady stepped off the plane at Heathrow this morning.

Instead, Carla Sarkozy appeared to be paying tribute to the Thunderbird’s Lady Penelope and to Jackie Kennedy by wearing an outfit eerily similar to one the Sixties style queen wore when she visited London in 1962.

As expected, her ensemble was dignified and elegant: contrary to rumours that she would be arriving with trunk-loads of Hermes she was pictured in a pale grey, belted, wool and jersey coat, pill-box hat and gloves, all by Dior. It was a diplomatic fashion choice since Dior is a revered French couture house, which is designed by the legendary Englishman John Galliano.

But was her First Lady image a little too conservative? The Sixties air hostess get-up is a look that has been peddled endlessly on the catwalks and more recently immortalised by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde 2. But at least it was a welcome change from the drab, single-breasted coat, jeans and loafers combo which has hitherto become Mrs Sarkozy’s uniform. And who other than a former super-model could wear a heavy wool coat with its unflattering calf length and team it with a pair of the flattest flats?

Yes, Carla could probably make a sack dress look glamorous but we should be sympathising because deciding what to wear today was always going to be a challenge beset by sartorial dilemmas. At 5ft 9 and being those crucial, few inches taller than her husband, Carla was never going to be able to finish her Dior outfit with Galliano’s towering skyscrapers – so high this season that even the models had trouble walking. Sarkozy spent the day in raised heels in any case.

Any added height on Carla would have also marked her out as taller than Prince Phillip, which would have made for a particularly comic line-up. One assumes that for royal protocol wearing a hat was a dead cert although something flattish (so as not add too much height) was also a stipulation.

So top marks for looking French, poised and sophisticated but not so twee and boring that she could be accused of not marking the occasion with the sartorial respect it deserved. And anyway, under that conservative and bourgeois demeanour, there’s always a hint of repressed sexuality or a killer dress dying to get out, at least in France there is.

Supermarket robbery by hypnotizing

Italian police have issued video footage of a man who has been hypnotizing supermarket checkout staff and getting them to hand over the cash.

In every case, according to reports, the last thing staff remember is a man leaning over and saying ‘Look into my eyes’ before suddenly finding the till is empty.

Look into my eyes: The man – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Rasputin and Saddam Hussein – bends over as he speaks to the cashier
Then he walks away with a grin, tucking goods into his pocket

In the latest incident captured on video footage the man walked into a bank in Ancona in northern Italy.

He waited until he got to a female bank clerk and, according to the video footage, appears to hypnotise her into handing over more than £600.

He then calmly walked out.

The cashier who was shown the video footage reportedly has no memory of the incident. She only realised what had happened when she saw the money missing.

Checks of CCTV cameras in the bank showed her being hypnotised by the man.

Italian police are now looking for the suspect – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Saddam Hussein – who they believe is either of Indian or North African.



The Anti-Facebook: Hatebook let’s you embrace your inner hater

A well-executed Facebook parody site called Hatebook has stepped in to provide grumpy people with a place to bitch about everything they hate.

You know those days, the ones when you’d love to have your Facebook status say “My boss is a tool!”. But since our parents and bosses are aware of and most likely connected to our social networks, many of us may be wary of venting our frustrations online using standard social-networking sites like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.

Hatebook looks and functions much like a hellish version of Facebook. There is an evil twist for everything. The color scheme is red, profiles include a section called “Why I’m Better Than You!”, and members can create “Hate Albums” that consist of photos and descriptions of things they hate.

The German creators of this hater’s social network have done a very good job replicating much of Facebook’s functionality, and they have even thrown in some additional useful features. You can visually locate other members by looking for their avatars on a map via integrated Google Maps. You can also see which members have last visited particular profiles.

Too much Hatebook can be a bad thing though. Because all messages (”junkmail”) are viewable by all other users, and there are no privacy controls.

This is not the first attempt to parody or lash back at the take-themselves-too-seriously social networking websites and the general trend towards constant online interconnectedness. Some others include Isolatr, Snubster and the real-life social interaction instigator NoSo. Even Facebook is trying to laugh at itself with the launching of Enemybook and Snubster apps.

So find a place to vent your angst. It can be cathartic.


In an homage to New York‘s recent nude Lindsay Lohan photo spread, the Village Voice columnist decided to stage his own version. He painstakingly re-created each pose, which Lindsay had, in turn, re-created from the original Marilyn Monroe series. (Bert Stern, who photographed both Lindsay and Marilyn, did not work with Musto.)

“I’ve long lived quite dangerously myself, and so, anxious to share my desperate man-tits with an audience beyond Chelsea, I gleefully agreed to star in an homage to an homage: Musto as Lohan as Marilyn. That’s three generations of loveliness, and I prepared for it by not shaving or waxing a thing, just letting it all hang in the wind as both a nod to history and a means of reclaiming control. Just like with Marilyn and Lindsay, people have always grabbed at me, wanting a piece of my piece and a slice of my soul, but usually with more pepperoni and less cheese.”

I love Berry

Berry has just released her first album, “Mademoiselle”