LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jean Nouvel, the French architect whose hyper-modern buildings have been acclaimed for their eclectic nature and departure from tradition, has won the 2008 Pritzker Architecture Prize, it was announced Sunday.
Nouvel joins Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando and I.M. Pei in receiving the top honor in the field in recognition of his high-rises, museums and performance halls around the world.
"I think they understood very well that I fight for specific architecture against generic architecture," Nouvel said by phone from his office in Paris. "Every project is an adventure."
Nouvel, 62, became the second Pritzker laureate to be chosen from France after Christian de Portzamparc, the 1994 recipient.
A formal ceremony will be held in June at the Library of Congress in Washington. Nouvel will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.
The Pritzker jury of architects, critics, academics and others praised Nouvel for his "persistence, imagination, exuberance, and, above all, an insatiable urge for creative experimentation."
Nouvel said his structures reflect time, place and occupants rather than simply adhering to stylistic dogma or historical precedent.
"I think every site, every program, has a right to a specific work, to a complete involvement of the architect," he said. "I am always researching the missing piece of the puzzle, and I like to analyze the site and conditions and give my answer after."
Among the 200 projects singled out by the Pritzker jury were Arab World Institute in Paris, which is festooned with motor-controlled apertures to control natural light, and Guthrie Theater, a boxy structure in Minneapolis with exterior screens that show scenes from past performances at the storied playhouse.
Currently planned by Nouvel are a tower alongside New York's Museum of Modern Art that cuts a jagged profile to a height comparable to the Chrysler Building, and a narrow condo building dubbed the "Green Blade" in the Century City area of Los Angeles with verdant gardens visible behind its glass walls.
"He is an architect who is really always pushing the envelope, whose work is uneven — all of us agree on that — but his successes are so spectacular," said architectural historian and author Victoria Newhouse, a Pritzker juror.
University of Southern California architecture school dean Qingyun Ma said he was surprised to see the award go to Nouvel because the French architect completed his signature works so long ago.
He said he expected the Pritzker jurors to select a younger, lesser known architect whom the prize could promote to a wider audience.
But he said Nouvel was deserving of the award because of his achievements as an architect and his penchant for constantly reinventing himself stylistically.
"It's a good surprise," Ma said. "He has been leading the field for quite a while."
Nouvel was born and grew up in southwest France. He became a movie fan early in life and still takes architectural inspiration from film, comparing an unfolding story to the way he wants people to experience moving through his buildings.
As a teenager, he wanted to be an artist but agreed to pursue a career as an architect as a compromise with his parents, who feared he wouldn't be able to make a living in the visual arts.
After an early career that included directing the Paris Biennale arts exhibition, Nouvel found some of his earliest acclaim with his Arab World Institute, a research and study center that the Pritzker jurors praised for its "modern twist on traditional Arabic latticework."
Commissions followed in more than two dozen countries on five continents, placing Nouvel among jet-setting "starchitects" in demand for high-profile projects around the world.
Nouvel said he begins each project by clearing his mind of his previous work and conceptualizing based on the cultural and environmental forces at work around the building site.
"Architecture is always linked to the surrounding culture," he said. "I've always said architecture is the petrification of a cultural moment."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.