Jean-Louis Cohen is an architect and historian, with a long track record in research on modern architecture and city planning. He has studied architecture at the École Spéciale d’Architecture and at the Unité Pédagogique n° 6 in Paris, graduating in 1973, and has received a Ph.D. in art history from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in 1985, and a habilitation from the same institution in 1992.
After having directed the Architectural Research Program at the French Ministry of Housing, he held from 1983 to 1996 a research professorship at the School of Architecture Paris-Villemin, and from 1996 to 2004, a chair in town-planning history at the Institut Français d’Urbanisme, University of Paris. Since 1994, he holds the Sheldon H. Solow Chair for the History of Architecture at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. In 2013, he has received a three-year chair at the Collège de France in Paris.
His research activity has focused mainly on 20th-century architecture and urban planning. He has studied in particular German and Russian architectural cultures, colonial situations in Morocco and Algeria, architecture during World War II, and extensively interpreted Le Corbusier’s work and Paris planning history. The question of cultural transfer in architecture, urban design, and visual culture is central in his work, and has been discussed in reference to the relationships between Italy, Germany, and France and, with particular emphasis, in reference to the interaction between Russia and the West.
From 1997 to 2003, the French Minister of Culture appointed him to create the Cité de l’architecture, a museum, research and exhibition center in the Paris Palais de Chaillot, which opened in 2007. During that period, he directed the Institut Français d’Architecture and the Musée des Monuments Français, the two main components of the Cité.
He has been a curator for numerous exhibitions including The Lost Vanguard, at the Museum of Modern Art (2007); Scenes of the World to Come, at the Canadian Center for Architecture (1995); Architecture in Uniform at the same venue (2011), and at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine and MAXXI (2014); Paris-Moscou [Paris-Moscow] (1979) and the centennial show L’aventure Le Corbusier [The Advanture Le Corbusier] (1987), both at the Centre Georges Pompidou; Le Corbusier, tainy tvorchestva, at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (2012); Interférences – architecture, Allemagne, France [Interferences: Architecture, Germany, France] at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt (2013); his show Le Corbusier, an Atlas of Modern Landscapes, has opened at MoMA in June 2013 and has traveled to Spain in 2014. In 2014, he has curated the French Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, receiving the special mention of the jury.
Jean-Louis Cohen is an elected member of the Académie d’architecture, in Paris, the Akademie der Künste, in Berlin, the Russian Academy of Architecture, in Moscow, and the Accademia di San Luca, in Rome. He has been a research fellow at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (1987), and a Getty scholar at the Getty Research institute (1992-93). He is the beneficiary a Graham Foundation individual grant in 2012 for the publication by Reaktion Books of his forthcoming history of French architectural modernism, and a fellow of the John S. Guggenheim Foundation for 2013. He will be the curator of the French pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.
He has received numerous awards, including the Great Prize of the architecture book from the Académie d’Architecture in Paris (1996, and 2012), the Medal for architectural analysis of the same institution (2003), the Art Book Prize (2013), and the Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award of the Society of Architectural Historians (2013). He has been awarded by the Schelling Foundation in Karlsruhe the Schelling Architekturtheorie Preis, the leading such European distinction (2010). The French government has appointed him a Knight in the order of Arts and Letters.