French newspaper Le Monde reported last week that architect Jean Nouvel is suing the Philarmonie de Paris, claiming that its premature inauguration of a building he designed is a breach of his moral rights.
Jean Nouvel won in 2007 an international competition launched to design the Philarmonie de Paris building, financed 100% by public money, the French government and the city of Paris. It is a cultural complex dedicated to music located in the Parc de la Villette area of Paris, featuring a concert hall and exhibitions spaces. The Orchestre de Paris is its resident orchestra and it will also host other orchestras, dance companies, and exhibitions.
The building was inaugurated last January 14. The same day, Jean Nouvel published an editorial in Le Monde, where he explained that he did not attend the inauguration because he believes that the building has been opened to the public too soon, without fine tuning its acoustics. The architect also claimed that the project managers cut corners to save money during its completion, and the result is that “[t]he architecture is martyred, the details sabotaged, so taxpayers will have to pay, once again, to correct these aberrational decisions.” Mr .Nouvel claimed that the inauguration of the building was “premature” and claimed a breach of his moral rights.
He then filed suit against the Philarmonie de Paris in the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (TGI). Both parties presented their arguments on February 13. According to the Le Monde article, Mr. Nouvel is not asking for damages, but is asking the TGI to order the Philarmonie de Paris to make adjustments to twenty-six areas which are not, according to him, in compliance with his original design, among them the foyer, the parapets, and reflectors in the concert hall. As long as these modifications are not made, he is asking the Philarmonie de Paris not to use his name and his image in connection with the project.
I did not find the complaint, and thus I cannot discuss the arguments of both parties. However, while architects are indeed considered authors under French intellectual property law, their droit moral is not without limits, due to the utilitarian nature of their creations. Therefore additional considerations, such as public safety, may trump the architect’s moral rights. For instance, the French Supreme Civil Court, the Cour de cassation, held on January 7, 1992, that “the practical use of a building commissioned to an architect prevents him to try to impose an absolute inviolability on his work, to which its owner has the right to make changes when it becomes necessary to adapt it to new needs. Nevertheless, it is for the judicial authority to assess whether these alterations to the architectural work are legitimized, given their nature and their importance, under the circumstances which forced the owner to undertake them.”
The Cour de cassation provided in 2009 a balancing test to be used by judges in these cases. They must “determine whether by their nature and importance, the changes made did or did not exceed what was strictly necessary and were or were not disproportionate to the aim pursued by the owner.”
Judgment is expected in the spring, and we’ll report on it then.