Philarmonie de Paris || Jean Nouvel

Dear Diary,

The Philharmonie de Paris encompasses the Cité de la musique (Philharmonie 2) designed by Christian de Portzamparc and the new building designed by Jean Nouvel. Operating as a whole, this major music complex will have the resources to combine all approaches to music — helping update the offering of artistic, educational and cultural events for today’s audiences, both locally and nationwide.


The Cité de la musique remains in its current building, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, but as an institution will undergo fundamental changes. As from January 2015, the Cité de la musique becomes an integral part of the Philharmonie de Paris.

Concretely, the Philharmonie de Paris operates between two buildings:

  • Philharmonie 1, the new building designed by Jean Nouvel, due to open in January 2015, and
  • Cité de la musique (Philharmonie 2), the building designed by Christian de Portzamparc, opened since 1995.
Courtesy of Cité de la Musique | Philharmonie de Paris.

The artistic pillars of this new philharmonic framework are the Orchestre de Paris (the resident orchestra), the Ensemble intercontemporain (the resident ensemble), and three associate ensembles — the Orchestre de chambre de Paris, the Orchestre national d’Île-de-France and Les Arts Florissants.

The unified Philharmonie project is being conducted by the present management team and current staff of the Cité de la musique.




Following neither the ‘shoebox’ style (as at the Musikverein in Vienna), nor the ‘vineyard’ style (as at the Berlin Philharmonie), the Philharmonie de Paris invents a model all its own, with an adjustable concert hall based on the concept of envelopment. This original design required innovations in architecture, stage design and acoustical engineering. The architect, Jean Nouvel and lead acoustician Sir Harold Marshall designed the room during synergetic sessions, with the architect, acoustician and theatre consultant working in a highly collaborative environment.

Though a large-capacity hall (2400 seats), this space within the Philharmonie feels remarkably intimate. But this feeling can be mathematically explained: the distance between the conductor and the farthest spectator is only 32 metres (compared to 48 metres at the Salle Pleyel for a smaller audience). ‘Evocative of immaterial, draped sheets of music and light, the hall suspends the listeners-spectators in space, on long balconies… This suspension creates the impression of being immersed in music and light’, explains the architect, Jean Nouvel.

Assisted by Metra & Associés (the associate architect), Atelier Jean Nouvel worked with Marshall Day Acoustics and Ducks Sceno to develop a bold system of cantilevered balconies and floating clouds, combining envelopment, intimacy and spaciousness. The stage can accommodate any orchestral formation, even the most imposing. The hall is also equipped with a Rieger organ, specially designed for the symphonic repertory.

The acoustic sub-consultant to Jean Nouvel was the New Zealander Sir Harold Marshall of Marshall Day Acoustics.  He recently collaborated with Zaha Hadid on the Guangzhou Opera House and is considered the pioneer of lateral reflections and a highly innovative designer of concert halls. Jean Nouvel also benefitted from the expertise of the Japanese Yasuhisa Toyota, notably associated with the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The acoustical programme (drawn up by Kahle Acoustics) called for great clarity of sound combined with high reverberation, as well as significant lateral reflections and a close, intimate feeling — all to be achieved within a new typology. The solution was found in a daring system of floating balconies which creates the intimacy, and the outer chamber, which produces the high reverberation. This new model interweaves lateral reflections, direct sound and reverberation, to achieve excellent clarity and transparency within a warm, enveloping resonance.

Another acoustical feat, of a different sort but no less remarkable, is to have succeeded in soundproofing the hall against outside noise, which is considerable given the Philharmonie’s location near Boulevard Sérurier, the Péripherique (ring road around Paris) and the Zénith. This was achieved by Studio DAP using the ‘box within a box’ concept, i.e., by leaving a space between the walls. In this respect as well, the hall adheres to the poetic yet highly technical notion of a ‘floating auditorium’.

One of the features that makes the Philharmonie unique among European concert halls is its versatility. To develop this aspect, Atelier Jean Nouvel, assisted by Metra & Associés worked closely with Marshall Day Acoustics and with the agency Ducks, specialising in concert hall stage design, with previous projects at the Opéra de Lyon and in Copenhagen. The aim is to be able to adapt the auditorium to different genres of music, while always providing optimal viewing and listening conditions. In the symphonic configuration, the audience surrounds the orchestra. The tiers behind the stage can accommodate a choir if required for the work being presented, but are more often filled by spectators. But in the case of concert-format operas or ‘ciné-concerts’ (film screenings to live music), the modular concept allows these back tiers to be eliminated and the stage to be moved back, increasing the parterre. Another innovative feature is that the seats in the parterre can be removed to leave standing room for contemporary music concerts.


concert hall

Pierre Boulez wanted it both rectangular and  modular, Christian Portzamparc wanted it in elliptical form. The Philharmonie 2’s Concert Hall is a meeting of these two paths. Its’ rectangular floor area is open to many possible configurations; the seats are retractable and movable, the stage is also mobile, and several stages can be installed. On the upper level, the balconies reveal the ellipsoidal form of the hall. These balconies are a multitude of small boxes, furnished with a lighting system which allows them to be infused with changing colour, and they also house small bench-seats. And finally, the hall is ringed by a gallery above the balconies. As Christian de Portzamparc emphasises, “The elliptical form of the Cité de la Music gives great perceptive richness. Depending on the venue, it can appear small or great, intimate or grandiose”.


The Concert Hall was conceived as a venue for spatially innovative works as well as more traditional installations. It is blessed with excellent acoustics and can adapt itself to the requirements of  each repertoire, symphonic groups or dance performances, from chamber music to bigger sounds.Thus it offers, according to the chosen configuration, from 650 to 1600 places (with the floor area as standing-room). Situated on the ground floor, the Concert Hall is accessible without any stairs. Each concert can welcome 10 people in wheelchairs on the floor area.



With 250 seats, the Amphitheatre gives everyone clear views of the stage and perfect acoustics for small orchestras. Thus it is perfectly suitable for chamber music concerts or recitals, to which it gives a great sense of intimacy. Air conditioned according to museum norms for the protection of the instruments, it also offers the perfect playing conditions necessary for fragile instruments.

This relatively small room is perfectly suitable for children’s shows. Furnished with projection apparatus, it can equally welcome films and conferences. Its’ Baroque organ, created by Christian de Portzamprac ( casing ) and Jean-François Dupont (craftsmanship ) is regularly played by students at the Paris Conservatory and during concerts.

The Amphitheatre is situated underground. It is accessible by way of a large staircase and a lift. The room can accommodate five people in wheelchairs.


music museum

The Music Museum was conceived to house and showcase the heritage slowly constructed since the creation in 1795 of the Paris Music Conservatory and its’ “instrument cabinet”. Following a competition launched in 1990, the French architect Franck Hammoutène was chosen to organise the layout of the historical music zone at the heart of Christian Portzamparc’s building. In order to protect the exhibits from the light of day while preserving the interplay between interior and exterior, the architect has chosen to play with the echo effect between the interior of the museum and the building that houses it. Thus the surrounding architecture shows itself through a series of breaks. The Music Museum was inaugurated in 1997.

The development of the Museum was initially seen as based on “ The development of the Museum was initially seen as based on “ a principle of fluidity and of a cross-reading which has continued from Orpheus to IRCAM ( French Institute for research in music and acoustical science)” according to the architect. A series of consecutive fluid bodies, of rhythms and passages”. The Museum was intended to function on a principal of derivation and connection, associating  instruments with paintings, sculptures, writings, the practice and the architecture of music. It was necessary to weave continuous networks through a welcoming architecture which was just sequences and interruptions. The number of pieces to be exhibited necessitated great closeness to the objects, here we have the vague impression of moving through a very particular collection.”

The intimate nature of the Museum makes it suitable for the organisation of small concerts, notably walking concerts, during which the public is closest to the musicians. It thus establishes an exchange between musical craftsmanship and musical practice. Renovation of the spaces was undertaken in June 2007 and completed in March 2009, fruit of reflection aimed at pushing the logic of music more open to the world further. The result is an audio-guide offering the public a large selection of sample extracts of the instruments in the collection, as well as forty short documentary films to enhance their journey through the Museum.

The Museum is accessible to everybody. Parent and children will find suitable visit-tools, as will handicapped visitors. All the spaces in the Museum are accessible to visitors with limited mobility.



Open onto the the Parc de la Villette, the Library provides a quiet space for professional musicians, aficionados or those simply curious, who wish to read up on music.

Originally conceived as a small bridge leading to the grand auditorium which was a part of the original plan for the Cité de la musique, the beam with its’ red metallic framework which crosses Christian de Portzamprac’s building has housed the Library since 2005.It offers an open and airy yet warm space, separated into different sections, giving onto the Parc de la Villette. Equipped with modern facilities, accessible to people with reduced mobility, it caters equally to professional musicians, connaisseurs, music enthusiasts or those simply curious, with a collection of around 70,000 documents at their disposal (printed material, sound recordings, audio-visuals and multimedia) and digital resources online.
The Library opened its’ doors in 2005 thanks to a special funding initiative granted by the Ministry for Culture and Communication and the support of Hewlett Packard. It was inaugurated on the 26th of October 2005 in the prescence of Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the Minister for Culture at the time.


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