Scenery with a Side of Pastry at the Arab Institute

The bells are chiming noon as we walk around Notre-Dame on our way back to the Left Bank. We are headed for the city’s Art Deco mosque, but I’m hungry and ready to sit for awhile, so suggest that we stop for a snack. We can head to the mosque later, after noon prayers have ended.

So, in keeping with the Islamic theme, we head over to the Arab Institute and its 9th floor terrace.

The Institute du Monde Arabe has been on our Paris “must-see” list from the moment I read about this slightly over-the-top Jean Nouvel structure.

While I think it sounds amazing, apparently not everyone feels the same. . . . like many Jean Nouvel buildings, this one has been a bit controversial. I don’t understand that. The glass box itself is innocuous enough. It isn’t until we circle around to the side of the building and slip through the narrow entry to the south courtyard that we see what makes the building special. Wow!

The south wall is a huge screen made up of insets, each with a series of irises that open and close electronically (when they work) to filter the sunlight striking the building. It is an elaborate solution to the simple problem, but it is a solution entirely in keeping with the building’s use as it really does evoke the geometric tiles and intricately carved screens of the Middle East.

I love it.

Inside, the entire building really is a large see-through box – from the glass elevator we can see through the building to the world beyond those elaborate screen.

From the inside we can also observe the mechanics behind the operation of the screen. Of course, the snapped cables we see both verify that there are drawbacks to this elaborate system while explaining the uneven opening of the irises on this sunny day.

Time for a break. We take a table on the terrace and enjoy lovely Moroccan mint tea and delectable Arab pastries. Ah, heaven.

We also are treated to heavenly views of Paris!

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