Nouvel was born on 12 August 1945 in Fumel, France. He is the son of Renée and Roger Nouvel who were teachers. His family moved often when his father became the county's chief school superintendent. His parents encouraged Nouvel to study mathematics and language, but when he was 16 years old he was captivated by art when a teacher taught him drawing. Although he later said he thought that his parents were guiding him to pursue a career in education or engineering, the family reached a compromise that he could study architecture which they thought was less risky than art.
When Nouvel failed an entrance examination at the École des Beaux-Arts of Bordeaux, he moved to Paris where he won first prize in a national competition to attend the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. From 1967 to 1970, Nouvel earned his income as an assistant to architects Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, who after only one year, made him a project manager in charge of building a large apartment complex.
Nouvel and filmmaker Odile Fillion married and have two sons, Bertrand, who is a post-doctorate computer scientist working at Mindstorm Multitouch in London, and Pierre, who is a theater producer and designer at his company, Factoid. With his second wife Catherine Richard, Nouvel has a daughter, Sarah. He lives now with Mia Hägg, who is a Swedish architect working at her practice Habiter Autrement (HA) in Paris.
By age 25, Nouvel completed school and entered into his own partnership with François Seigneur. Parents sent them work, and gave Nouvel a valuable recommendation to the chairperson of the seventh edition of the Biennale de Paris where for fifteen years, Nouvel designed exhibits and made contacts in the arts and theater. Early on in his career, Nouvel became a key participant in intellectual debates about architecture in France: he co-founded the Mars 1976 movement in 1976 and, a year later, the Syndicat de l'Architecture. Nouvel was one of the organizers of the competition for the rejuvenation of the Les Halles district (1977) and he founded the first Paris architecture biennale in 1980.
Nouvel had three different partners between 1972 and 1984: Gilbert Lezenes, Jean-François Guyot, and Pierre Soria. In 1985, with his junior architects Emmanuel Blamont, Jean-Marc Ibos and Mirto Vitart, he founded Jean Nouvel et Associés. Then, with Emmanuel Gattani, he formed JNEC in 1988. Ateliers Jean Nouvel, his present practice, was formed in 1994 with Michel Pélissié and is one of the largest in France, with 140 people in the main office in Paris. Ateliers Jean Nouvel site offices are Rome, Geneva, Madrid and Barcelona. They are working on 30 active projects in 13 countries. Nouvel designed a flacon for L'Homme, an Yves Saint Laurent fragrance, in a limited edition launched in 2008.
Pritzker points to several more major works: in Europe, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art (1994), the Culture and Convention Center in Lucerne (2000), the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon (1993), Expo 2002 in Switzerland and, under construction, the Copenhagen Concert Hall and the courthouse in Nantes (2000); as well as two tall towers in planning in North America, Tour Verre in New York City and a cancelled condominium tower in Los Angeles,
In its citation, the jury of the Pritzker prize noted:
Of the many phrases that might be used to describe the career of architect Jean Nouvel, foremost are those that emphasize his courageous pursuit of new ideas and his challenge of accepted norms in order to stretch the boundaries of the field. [...] The jury acknowledged the 'persistence, imagination, exuberance, and, above all, an insatiable urge for creative experimentation' as qualities abundant in Nouvel's work.
Nouvel has designed a number of notable buildings across the world, the most significant of which are listed below. As part of the announcement of Nouvel's Pritzker Prize, the Hyatt Foundation, which awards the prize, published a full illustrated list of Nouvel's architectural work, including projects which were never built, projects in construction and designs for which construction has yet to start.
In 2001 director Beat Kuert filmed a documentary about five of Nouvel's projects titled Jean Nouvel.
1987 - Nemausus 1 (Housing, 114 apartments), Nîmes, France
The Central Park redevelopment plan in Sydney will see 11 new buildings in partnership with architects such as Norman Foster to recreate an abandoned brewery occupying almost four inner-city blocks. Nouvel's 120-meter One Central Park is his first project in Australia, and will feature a cantilevered mirror hanging over the central square off of the side of the building.
In November 2006, Hines commissioned Nouvel to build a new 82-story tower, named first the Tour de Verre, later to become 53W53, next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan. The tower is scheduled to open in 2018. It will contain luxury apartments and three floors (2nd, 4th, and 5th) will be used by MoMA to expand its exhibition space.
In March 2010, Jean Nouvel presented his plans for the National Museum of Qatar. In September 2011, Qatar approved the $434 million museum project. The museum opened to the public 28 March 2019.
Jean Nouvel is one of the architects involved in the designing of the new Slussen in Stockholm.
In February 2008, Nouvel agreed to design a 45-story luxury condo tower in upscale Century City section of Los Angeles. The tower will be of modern design--it is designed to maximize views of the Los Angeles Country Club from the units and is opposed by both homeowners associations in Beverly Hills for the shadows it will cast on many small homes and its next door neighbor, Beverly Hills High School.
In April 2007, Jean Nouvel associated with Marshall Day Acoustics Ltd won the competition to build a new Orchestra Hall (Philharmonie de Paris) in Paris, close to Cité de la Musique (opening in 2015)
1989 - The Tour Sans Fins (Office/High-Rise) at La Défense, France, was never realized. Nouvel's winning design, proposed as Europe's tallest building in 1989, was to change ground up from granite, followed by aluminum, stainless steel and finally glass--"increasingly diaphanous before disappearing into the sky".
2003 - The Carnegie Science Center addition by Nouvel in Pittsburgh was never realized. Nouvel's winning design ended up being too expensive and Nouvel's contract was terminated by the Carnegie Science Center, citing a "dramatic difference between the budget for the project and the estimated cost."
^Lebow, Arthur (6 April 2008). "The Contextualizer". The New York Times. p. 4; excerpt, "...a skyscraper that Nouvel (adapting a term from the artist Brâncu?i) called the "tour sans fins," or endless tower. Conceived as a kind of minaret alongside the squat, monumental Grande Arche de La Défense, the endless tower has taken on some of the mystique of Mies van der Rohe's unbuilt Friedrichstrasse glass skyscraper of 1921. To obscure its lower end, the tower was designed to sit within a crater. Its facade, appearing to vanish in the sky, changed as it rose, from charcoal-colored granite to paler stone, then to aluminum and finally to glass that became increasingly reflective, all to enhance the illusion of dematerialization.".