Paris – A Hi-Tech Mashrabiyya

Drawing inspiration from traditional Islamic Mashrabiyyas (Lattice worked enclosures), architect Jean Nouvel designed this fantastic facade for the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.

That elevation isn’t just decorative though.

It is in fact a giant ocular device. Its several hundred light sensing diaphragms regulate the amount of light penetrating the building by altering the size of their apertures….quite like the human eye! Its imperceptibly moving lenses creating the most dramatic patterns that are reflected on shiny interior surfaces and enhanced by the stark lines of the steel staircase. A few glass elevators add to the intense, visual drama!
World Arab Institute - Paris
This award winning design (Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1989, and the Equirre d’Argent for French architecture in 1987) is currently out of order and is awaiting millions of dollars worth of repairs with funds donated by Saudi Arabia.

I am grateful I got to see it in action on an earlier visit. The institute conducts guided tours of the building on certain days of the week, but they are all disappointingly in French.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did. And have a great weekend!

PS: I am going to be offline for a few days…writing this from my hotel room in Delhi in fact.  Off to battle my ‘Taj jinx’ tomorrow, so I can finally put an end to the incredulous “You haven’t seen the Taj Mahal??” question once and for all. Back soon…

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

45 thoughts on “Paris – A Hi-Tech Mashrabiyya

  1. Hope you enjoy your Taj visit! Looking forward to seeing some fantastic photos and reading your lovely words about it!

  2. Madhu I am on a big catch with my favorite blogs run. How do you do it girl. Every post has photos more beautiful than the last.

  3. What a fascinating piece of work! I’d never even heard of it, Madhu. I’ve half a plan to visit Paris next Summer so I’ll keep my eyes open for news of the repairs if we do go. Madhu’s shots of the Taj- now that will be something to look forward to! 🙂

  4. My oh my, that a lotta work. So many patterns to track of. Definitely worth the recognition. You must’ve used your charm again to pull strings tosee it.

  5. Oh, to have seen this while in operation must be a splendid sight! Have a safe and very rewarding trip Madhu. 🙂

  6. “…altering the size of their apertures, quite like the human eye!! ”

    I would not have known if you had not mentioned it. What a fantastic idea/design.

    The Taj – hmmm, love to read your write up on that iconic monument. Hopefully you’ll put to rest many of the myths that surround the Taj Mahal.

    Have a safe and enjoyable journey,

  7. jinx averted, I hope, Madhu!

    I’m sad this astounding piece of modern architecture/engineering has been allowed to break down – and that the exhibitions are French rather than Islamic (I wonder though whether the building itself is the star and its contents of secondary interest?).

    Now I’m here, with a permanent internet connection, I’m looking forward to catching up with your wonderful posts … 🙂

  8. Absolutely fabulous, Madhu. I’d love to see this. I wonder when it will get repaired? Enjoy the Taj. Lucky you. 🙂

  9. Madhu, wow … the slide show just amazing – my favorite shot is the stairs. What a beautiful building. Never heard about before.
    Travel safely and enjoy … the moments.

  10. Good travel!!!! And, yes, I am sorry…But you have to see the Taj!!! 🙂 🙂 And take a lot of wanderful pics, and learn a lot of beautiful stories about it….(And then, make a wonderful post! I would love to go myself!!!!!!)

  11. Yeah we all just have to open our eyes, so we will discover there’s a wonderful world outside there – you do have your eyes open, Madhu… 🙂

  12. Awesome! 🙂 Have a happy Taj visit 🙂 And I hope you’ll stick around in Delhi for a while too 🙂 Its not as bad as some people would have you believe! (And yes you have a local guide here too!)

    1. Ah I forgot you were in Delhi! Are you in town? We are here until Tue morning, but on a jam packed itinerary including meeting up with a blogger friend, and another we met in Egypt! Shall email you Kasturika.

  13. Thoroughly enjoyed your post, Madhu. Thank you for sharing it. Take care and have a great trip. -Max-

  14. Madhu, enjoy Agra and the Taj! We hope to see some beautiful pictures on your return. I’m hoping to go back to the Taj on my next visit.

  15. Thnânks so much for sharing this! We were in Paris and wanted to visit it, but regretfully it was closed that day! Seems, it is worth a visit- as much as the still to be conquered Eiffel Tower 🙂
    To you, all the best, keep posting on the go !!

  16. Wonderful photos Madhu! The French permit only one language, they cannot tolerate others …. visitors must learn!!!! It was a very overcast day when we went through, so my photos are a bit dull … yours are marvellous 🙂

  17. So mysterious Madhu ! I am going to go ! Thanks so much for sharing!

  18. Well I’ve been to Paris twice and never had enough time to go there much as I wanted to and people looked at me as if I’m crazy because I chose not to go to the Taj when I went to India!

  19. Simply breathtaking… I could easily wander and get lost in its mystery and beauty. Be safe and many thanks for sharing ~

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