Looking beyond the façade.

There’s been some press this week about the completion of the latest building by Jean Nouvel. Much to my surprise (and embarrassment), this is a building I’ve been photographing because I actually thought it was being disassembled, not the other way around. (“Architecture is a visual art,” said Julia Morgan, “and the buildings speak for themselves.”)

Jean Nouvel’s building is located next to Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. I first noticed it when I saw what looked like a shirt hanging among the construction debris – as if the tenant didn’t even have time to pack his white chef’s coat before the cranes started ripping off the sides of the building. And as you can see from my photos below, the “façade-removal” theory is not that hard to imagine.

In an awkward building stage, especially with unidentified objects hanging in windows.

Fortunately, no “top chefs” were harmed in the construction of this building, and my apologies to Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel for the blunder. The building, which is at 100 11th Avenue, is a 23-story luxury condominium tower that showcases Nouvel’s interest in “skins.” The curving façade wrapping around the south and west sides of the building is made up of prefabricated metal grids and more than 1,600 windows of different sizes and shapes. Each window is set at a unique angle and torque, and thus reflects light differently than the other panes around it. The result is that the building appears to shimmer, and some people say it looks like it’s draped in sequins. Personally, I think it looks like a pair madras shorts, but I’ve never been much of a couture gal.

The windows, which are colorless but take on various shades of blue in the reflected light, also make me think of the Kaleidoscope House, the children’s toy with the transparent sliding walls that I seriously wish they’d bring back into production.

Nouvel’s new building at 100 11th Avenue (left); the Kaleidoscope House toy (right).

You can’t spin a protractor in New York without hitting a building by a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, and this block is no exception. Both Gehry and Nouvel have been honored with the prize and I wonder what the jury would say about how the IAC Building and 100 11th Avenue work in relation to one another. In the States, we spend a lot of time debating whether or not a new building “fits in” with the existing context, but we rarely speak to how one building improves another, or provides an additional benefit to another.

For example, in Masdar City – the carbon-neutral development in the Abu Dhabi desert – the buildings are being designed to work together to funnel hot desert air upward, and in the process create breezes to cool the city. The entire city is orientated to make best use of solar movements and prevailing winds, and “the relationship of one building to the next provides shading and generates year-round useable spaces in between,” say master planners Foster + Partners.

Computer-generated images of Masdar City. “One day, all cities will be built like this,” say Foster + Partners.

I’m both freaked out and awestruck by the Masdar City project, but despite the fact that I think it would feel like being in the movie Sleeper, I would still like to go there. Especially since my little cottage just got “red tagged” by the building department for a permit issue. Silly me, I didn’t realize I had to ask permission to repair my front door so that it opens, closes and (wait for it) locks. My mind must have been elsewhere, perhaps in Abu Dhabi.

Gwendolyn Horton