Jean Nouvel Protests Philharmonie Opening

John Hill
15. January 2015
Photo: AFP, via Sydney Morning Herald

Yesterday, on the day of a VIP opening of Jean Nouvel's long-anticipated (and three times over budget) Philharmonie de Paris, Le Monde published an editorial from the architect explaining why he would not be attending the opening.

Ateliers Jean Nouvel won a 2007 design competition for the 2,400-seat Philharmonie de Paris, which overlooks the Parc de la Villette, designed in the 1980s by Bernard Tschumi. The jagged metallic building was set to open two years ago and it appears the client had waited long enough, as the "concert hall was still surrounded by an army of workmen fanatically fixing cladding panels to the facade when the conductor took to his dais on Wednesday evening," so quipped Oliver Wainright in The Guardian.

This still ongoing work is just one reason Nouvel is angry. Here is the architect's full explanation, originally published in Le Monde in French and posted on Jean Nouvel's website in English:

Numerous articles published recently in the press and reports broadcast on television establish a direct link between cost overruns in the budget of the Philharmonie de Paris and alleged modifications of the project that are attributed to me. These charges are unfounded and highly prejudicial to me and to Ateliers Jean Nouvel. I will not tolerate that untruthful, defamatory and disparaging writings or comments are made about me.

I affirm that in no case was I at the origin of any cost overrun on this project. The public report of Cour des Comptes of February 2012 evokes “poor piloting”, “many delays related to the fluctuations of the public arbitrations” which “obviously influenced the cost of the operation.

The public report of the French Senate of October 17th, 2012 evokes “initial underestimated costs” before the launching of the competition and specifies the main reasons of overruns, which have nothing to do with me. For example: “expenses of the client”, “purchases of first equipment”, expenses of “site interface”, “fee expenses”, “insurance”, “taxes”, “repercussions of revisions of price”, “chaotic” tendering “passed under doubtful legal conditions” which “did not favor lowering of the costs”. At last, additional area was added to the program by the Philharmonie de Paris.

Today, the Philharmonie de Paris opens. Too early. The building is not finished. There were no acoustic tests of the concert hall. The schedule did not allow the architectural and technical requirements to be respected. This despite all the warnings which I have been giving since 2013.

In September 2013, in the French edition of Vanity Fair, Pierre Boulez declared: “The concert hall will have to be broken in and tested by orchestras to regulate the acoustics. It is useless to open it too early. In spring 2015, at the end of the season, the biggest orchestras of the world would be invited for exceptional performances but at reduced prices. The true season would begin in September with the Orchestre de Paris”. Now, hours before its opening, let us declare with Pierre Boulez that the Philharmonie is “en rodage”. This fall, when the construction is completed, it will be time to inaugurate it peacefully and with dignity.

Jean Nouvel

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