Executive Normal by Jean Nouvel

Don't you just love it when the same mind that created the outside also creates the stuff that goes in it? As is often the case with the best creative energy in the design world, the person who conceived of the residence/building is the same person who created the furniture to fill its cavernous halls, to animate its empty space.

Executive Normal. Designed by Jean Nouvel. Manufactured by Bulo.

This year's winner of the 2008 Pritzker Price for architecture, Jean Nouvel, is just such a one. Nouvel won the award "for his work on more than 200 projects, among them, the 'exotically louvered' Arab World Institute, the bullet-shaped and 'candy-colored' Torre Agbar in Barcelona, and the 'muscular' Guthrie Theater with its cantilevered bridge in Minneapolis." Nouvel has a versatile aesthetic: each new project seems to have absorbed the prevailing qualities of the surrounding milieu; thus, the Torre Agbar reflects the curvi-linearity and exuberance of Barcelona, while the Guthrie Theater evokes the industrial functionality of much of Middle America.

Executive Normal by Jean Nouvel

But if there's a consistent element Nouvel incorporates into each new creation, it's the harnessing of shadow and light, of features that allow a particular piece to change given the location, the angle of the sun, the hour of the day. This holds true whether we're dealing with an edifice or, say, a worktable. Nouvel's Executive Normal for manufacturer Bulo hearkens back to the best Bauhaus tradition-it's deceptive in its simplicity: a wide top and double chest of drawers are linked by a structural steel element. The veneered table and chests feature a parallel linearity suggestive of the hey-dey of Bauhaus style mass production. At its best, this means the limitations of machine production inspired versatility and aesthetic innovation: in short, a whole new vernacular that, in many respects, typified modern design.

Normal does this and more: the double drawers can be rotated on the axis of the structural element, allowing manifold re-configurings and re-imaginings, not to mention adapting to and working with space constraints. And there are options galore: "Hilfiger" features a stark white veneer and marine-tinted glass doors, creating the illusion that the chest is filled with seawater, that assorted mollusks and crustaceans might inhabit its contours, rather than the mundane staplers and tape dispensers that usually occupy such spaces; the rich brown hues of "Dusseldorf" say "admire but don't touch," in the best Prussian tradition; and the ruby-tinged elegance of "Elio" creates a kind of office-appropriate artiness, most at home, perhaps, in the tempered phantasmagoria of L.A. As with everything he does, Nouvel's Normal takes the surrounding environment and reflects it right back at us.

Posted July 10, 2008 by Joseph Starr

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