"Philistines!": Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel Lash Out at Parisians After a Museum Is Delayed

"Philistines!": Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel Lash Out at Parisians After a Museum Is Delayed

Frank Gehry is an architect who is used to getting his way, so he's not merely miffed by a French judge's revocation of building permit for his planned museum for LVMH billionaire Bernard Arnault's contemporary art collection — he's "appalled, shocked, and angry," he told French fellow starchitect Jean Nouvel. The extent of Gehry's pique is one of several choice tidbits from an outspoken interview that Nouvel gave to French newspaper Journal du Dimanche in a campaign to defend Gehry's project against Parisian "philistines" who have succeeded in derailing it, at least temporarily, after it started to rise in the Bois de Boulogne park on the western outskirts of Paris.

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Work on the project — a 130,000-square-foot structure referred to as a "cloud of glass," and intended to reflect the sky and create harmony with nature — has gone on for over a year, and concrete has already been poured. But a group of residents oppose the building on several grounds, including its projected 150-foot height, and have filed a request to halt construction. Though the judge rejected that claim, he upheld their charge that the building blocks a public road through the park and withdrew the building permit that was issued in 2007. François Douady, president of the Association to Save the Bois de Boulogne, which has also opposed other construction projects in the park, told the Journal du Dimanche that "we lack green spaces in Paris, not museums. I hope this project will be razed to the ground."

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a supporter of the Gehry project, says that the ruling is absurd because the road in question has not been used for years, according to the Independent. LVMH general secretary Marc-Antoine Jamet, who is also president of the Jardin d'Acclimatation children's park near the site, told the Journal du Dimanche that construction of the museum does not require removing any trees, and that it replaces a 1950s bowling alley that is "an architectural horror."

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As for Nouvel, the celebrated French architect told the Journal du Dimanche's Bertrand Gréco that he feels like "sounding off" after speaking with Gehry about the withdrawal of the permit. Nouvel accused the area's residents of systematically objecting to any ambitious projects, an attitude he calls "uncivil and uncultured." Not mincing his words, the architect also went after the obstructionists for their conservatism. "These people show a blind and perverse individualism that goes against public interest," he said. "They object to any change on principle. In their tight little suits, they want to put Paris in formaldehyde. It's quite pathetic."

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Nouvel, of course, doesn't think the citizens' allegedly reactionary stance is a specifically French thing: "it's the same thing in New York," he said. He would know. His plans for a giant new tower for MoMA in that city have been met by furious opposition every step of the way, leading him to accuse his midtown foes of likewise "embalming the city" in an interview with New York magazine.

The judge's ruling is a blow to Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, who launched plans for his museum in 2006. Back in 2005, another French luxury goods billionaire, François Pinault, gave up on his plans to build a museum for his collection on Seguin Island outside Paris, citing too much governmental red tape. Pinault then took his collection to Venice's Palazzo Grassi. Now plans have been launched for a variety of arts spaces to be built on Seguin Island, with designs by Jean Nouvel.

Paris's mayor's office seems determined that Arnault will not follow in Pinault's footsteps and take his collection elsewhere. The city immediately appealed the judge's decision and has filed a request to delay revoking the building permit until the appeal is heard.