The award-winning architect – whose most recent project – the National Museum of Qatar in Doha – is one of his most inspiring as well as most powerful, has teamed with Morel for a capsule eyewear collection. In an exclusive interview, 2020EUROPE Editor in chief found out how the architect has taken to eyewear.
Jean Nouvel, architect
Q: You have launched a collection in collaboration with Morel, the French eyeglasses manufacturer, this autumn. How have you developed this involvement in the very particular domain of eyeglasses making? What got you interested, as an archite
A: I was contacted by the Morel family. They took me through their history, and their savoir- faire. I'd never designed glasses before. I was very touched by their invitation and I thought I'd give it a go for their sake. I'm not a designer, I'm an architect who does design. I do small architectural structures. I call my objects my small structures. What got me interested in eyewear was the challenge of tackling archetypes.â€¨I had a preconceived idea of eyewear as a type. Glasses are often linked to technical processes, to the times, and I really wanted to develop a type around great simplicity. What immediately popped into my head were two circles and a horizontal line. I've always been struck by glasses in the sense that they're almost like jewellery. I had friends, at art school, who could see perfectly well but still always wore glasses – obviously with totally innocuous lenses.â€¨I also see it (eyewear), then, as an object that indicates an aesthetic choice, that indicates a personality. And what also interests me when I choose sunglasses or other objects myself is precisely the relationship between a personality and the choice of an object. So, I wouldn't say I'm going to do an architect's glasses, I'd say I'm going to do a small structure with this particular object. I decided to fine-tune the idea of a horizontal line and two circles with frames of different thicknesses and dimensions that are variable in relation to face size.â€¨They become a sort of sign of great simplicity and great clarity that also translates as balance. Because there's something that's always annoyed me with people who wear glasses and are a bit careless, and that is that often the glasses are askew. So, I decided to design glasses that couldn't normally be askew.
Once you establish a line that's clearly horizontal in relation to two circles, if you end up with a diagonal line on your nose, it's something that will be visible straightaway and will land you straight in a comedy film, if I can put it like that.
Q: Is coming up with a design for faces so very different from your work as an architect?
A: Unfortunately, it's very similar to an architect's work because nine tenths of the time when you're building housing you know absolutely nothing about the person who's going to live there. Here we're working on faces that aren't known. What interests me is seeing lots of people wearing these glasses. You have to always trust whoever's doing the choosing. In the end they're the ones who are going to choose the eyewear, who are going to wear it, who are going to choose the kind of frame, thickness, etc.â€¨It's always nice to come across someone who really knows how to wear what you've created. Maybe I'll be unpleasantly surprised at times [laughs]. I think it's in the nature of the object itself to underscore a personality, a style that relates to, agrees with the person, with the way they dress, the way they stand and look at the world. So, there's always a sort of complementary relationship with something you don't know that might at least turn out be the basis or the source of a happy encounter.
\\ The new National Museum of Qatar designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Photo credit: Iwan Baan
Q: How did you work with the Morel teams?
A: My teams went to their factory in the Jura, and learnt about their skills, techniques, production methods and the many constraints specific to the world of eyeglasses manufacture. And we talked a lot.â€¨After that came a period when we made drawings and prototypes, which we first tested in-house using 3-D printing, then refined with the Morel R&D team.
Q: What was your guiding thread for the models? This collection is remarkable for its combination of round and geometric shapes, and its pure colour range: what type of eyewear did you want to create?
A: The guiding thread of the collection is horizontality. Its distinguishing feature is this line that runs across the lenses and the way that line folds back on itself. This horizontal line also has to fold back over the ears and I absolutely wanted the same thickness, the same continuity, and not a design for a sidepiece that was too different or had too many segments. There's something in the way the circles are placed that means they're not affected by that, you get the impression the thickness is the same. If you think of down strokes and upstrokes [in writing with ink], here we felt like we were drawing the strokes with the same thickness, and there's very little difference between the thickness of the rings and the horizontal line. It's this continuity of the line between the rings and the horizontal line that defines the simple, direct, clean look of the eyewear.
\\ Jean Nouvel x Morel - new campaign