Projects   Project Portfolio – July 2006
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Reina Sofia Museum

Atéliers Jean Nouvel

Jean Nouvel adds three freestanding pavilions to Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum and then floats a winglike canopy above them

Photo © Duccio Malagamba

By David Cohn

With his addition to the Reina Sofía National Museum Art Center in Madrid, Jean Nouvel has set himself the challenge of working in shadow, defying the idea that architecture, as Le Corbusier famously wrote in Toward a New Architecture, is “the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of forms brought together in light.” Nouvel has completely covered his project—three independent pavilions arranged around a central court—with a hovering plane of polished, lacquered aluminum, which extends from the museum’s existing building “like a shadow,” as he puts it. The 86,000-square-foot canopy offers welcoming shade on Madrid’s hot and cloudless summer days, at the cost of throwing the project into gloom during the long winter months—although Nouvel has punctured the roof in places to reveal patches of sky and admit shafts of light into the court.

First opened in 1986, the Reina Sofía occupies an 18th-century hospital, a forbidding 265,000-square-foot structure, designed in 1769 by Francesco Sabatini, the court architect to King Charles III. Just a few blocks from the Prado Museum, it houses a comprehensive collection of 20th-century Spanish art (including Picasso’s Guernica), which attracts 1.5 million visitors a year. In 1990, as part of an intervention directed by Spanish architects José Luis Iñiguez de Onzoño and Antonio Vázquez de Castro, British architect Ian Ritchie memorably added frameless glass elevator towers to the entry facade. Nine years later, the museum held a limited competition with the goal of drawing secondary activities out of the main building to free up space there for the permanent collection. Among the twelve competing architects, Nouvel won first prize, Dominique Perrault second, and Juan Navarro Baldweg third.

The addition’s triangular site, to the southwest of the existing museum, faces a congested avenue. Access to all three of Nouvel’s structures is from the central plaza, which opens to the street on either end. Distinct from one another in program and personality, the three pavilions contain, respectively: the library and bookshop; the temporary exhibition galleries; and the restaurant and café, rising to two auditoriums above.

The 24,000-square-foot library and 6,000-square-foot bookshop occupy a volume designed to buffer the museum precinct from the boulevard. The library’s soaring main reading room extends one story below grade, with ground-level windows on either side, establishing a visual connection between street and court, reminiscent of views through an aquarium.

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the People

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS) Ministerio de CUltura

Project Architect (AMP)—official architects

Atéliers Jean Nouvel
10, cite d’Angoulême
75011 Paris

Jean Nouvel, principal
Alberto Medem, project architect

Competition team:
David Fagard, Gian-Luca Ferrarini, Jérémie Lebarillec, Sergio Noero, Florence Rabiet, Sophie Thhullier, Mounie El Hawat

Project team:
Gian-Luca Ferrarini, Anne Lamiable, Augustin Miranda, Carlos Noguiera, Adelino Magalhaes, Eloisa Siles, Marcos Velasco, Fermina Garrido, Antonia Garcia, Rafael Cañizares, Barbara Belloso, Higinio Esteban, Javier Piedra, Raul Pleite, Camila Campo

Special advisor to Jean Nouvel:
Hubert Tonka


J.G. Asociados

Higini Arau

Quantity Surveyor:
Rafael Guijarra

Rafael Guijarro

Duccio Malagamba

Jean Louis Courois (Maquette/model); Didier Ghislain (perspective); Artefactory (photomontage)

the Products

Exterior Cladding
Curtain Wall:
Laminated Glass - Folcra & Estrumaher

Interior Finishes
Synthetic paint & anti-grafitti for stone - Color Ral

Interior paneling:
– Polyester tiles
– Wood (in library and Auditorium): Jatoba ( Brasilian cherry)

Erco (Halogen)


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