France’s longstanding relationship with Islamic culture is embodied in Jean Nouvel’s stunning Institut du Monde Arabe. The visionary design surprised the 19 donor nations when they first saw the concept in the 1980’s. Far from a traditional austere building, the institute features radical high-tech walls emblazoned with mechanical apertures that respond to sunlight by narrowing to reduce solar exposure or dilating to allow daylight to suffuse the interior.

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The unique windows of the Parisian museum are reminiscent of the intricate Arabic patterns seen in many buildings — but with a twist. The windows are composed of metal eyes that dilate according to outdoor light conditions. The interior is host to a changing and complex lighting effect that layers daylight from the 30,000 apertures. Since the kinetic wall is facing the south, the building controls thermal exposure and interior lighting with a single system.

+ Institut du Monde Arabe

+ Jean Nouvel