Completed in 2006, the Musée du Quai Branly (Quai Branly Museum) in Paris appears to be a wild, disorganized jumble of colorful boxes. To add to the sense of confusion, a glass wall blurs the boundary between the outer streetscape and the inner garden. Passers-by cannot distinguish between reflections of trees or blurred images beyond the wall. Inside, Jean Nouvel plays architectural tricks to highlight the museum's diverse collections. Concealed light sources, invisible showcases, spiral ramps, shifting ceiling heights, and changing colors combine to ease the transition between periods and cultures. Australian indigenous artists represented at the Museum include Ningura Napurrula, her signature motifs appear superimposed on the ceiling of the administration side of the museum's building.
Outside, a horizontal row of two dozen giant, Lego-like boxes protrude from the riverside façade, painted in earthy tones of aubergine, ochre and tan. Geometric shapes meet flowing curves; plate glass meets natural wood; concrete meets vegetation. Detractors lament the architectural medley. But the overall result is oddly harmonious, perhaps because of the linking theme of nature. Once the trees planted on it mature, the site will be shaded and woodlike. There is even an extraordinary 800-square-metre “vegetation wall”: a vertical garden in which 150 different plant species have taken root on polyamide felt, stapled to waterproof PVC slabs and fed by automatic hosepipes. Mr Nouvel said he wanted to create space organised around “the symbols of the forest, the river and the obsessions of death and oblivion”.