May 1, 2007
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA

Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, gives a tour of 40 Mercer Street, under construction.

Rick Bell, FAIA

Architect Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, was honored April 9, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of NYU’s Maison Française. The celebration, at NYU’s Kimmel Center, also started the weeklong celebration of the AIA New York Chapter’s Architecture Week, marking the sesquicentennial of the American Institute of Architects. After a brief introduction by Francine Goldenhar, director of the Maison Française, Nouvel spoke of architecture in general and of his recent work.

Earlier in the day he conducted a walk-through of the 40 Mercer Street residential tower, nearing completion on Grand Street. During the tour he spoke of the importance of the Manhattan light, of the city view, and of integrating the new structure into SoHo’s streetscape. The 40 Mercer Street tower, and the anticipated project next to Gehry Partner’s IAC on Eleventh Avenue, articulately speak for themselves. The Mercer Street project reflects an urbane dialogue about nature re-inserted in urban architecture, not unlike his Musée du Quai Branly. Its arcade and lobby respond to Mayor Bloomberg’s call for a million new city trees. The residential tower façade refracts light, engaging the colors of the city and the adjacent roofscapes. Nouvel, clad in black, spoke eloquently about the urban context, and of helping create a new wave of environmentally appropriate structures and a new vogue for glass housing. I, for one, was ready to move in.

His subsequent remarks at NYU, based on notes taken hastily by this writer, are excerpted below and in the word document link:

“Architecture is an expansion of our world at a time when our world is getting smaller. The global economy is expanding the promulgation of an architecture without context. We must resist the urbanization of zones and grids. We must establish sensitive poetic relics, an analysis of the art of creation that is specific to rain, sea and mountain.”

“Architecture means transformation, organizing the retention of what is already here. How does one create a vibration that evokes the hidden dimension of the past? This is surely a task for poetry, since only poetry can produce the metaphysic of the instant.”

“Architecture is a vehicle for permanence changed by life, to be impressionable and impress, to absorb and emit. Explanation is the duty; questioning is a necessity of evolution. I will conclude this introduction to my projects with a paradox by Paul Valéry: ‘contradictions generate spirit.’ ”

Click here [jeannouvel.doc]to download the full text of Nouvel’s remarks.


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