Nouvel Vogue

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.

A Grassroots Accent on Appreciation

Doug Gordon

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez.

Doug Gordon

Grassroots, the AIA’s annual legislative and leadership conference, took place this month in Washington, D.C., and was marked by rhetorical flourishes left and right. Speeches at plenary sessions and candidate forums were complemented by acceptance remarks at award ceremonies and impromptu words from the podium when the teleprompter could not keep up with the speakers.

Remarkable speeches included those of architect John Barnes, son of Edward Larrabee Barnes, who accepted the AIA’s Gold Medal on behalf of his father at the Accent on Architecture Gala at the National Building Museum. Following remarks by Henry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, who eloquently put the award-winner’s career in perspective, Barnes fils spoke for the 500 people who over the years had worked at the Barnes firm. Unsaid was the feeling that the award would better have been conferred before Barnes died. Perhaps most eloquent was the dignified elation visible on the face of firm partner Mary Barnes, who, from her wheelchair, did not speak, but whose elegant presence captivated the room.

Also at the Accent gala, Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, and Andrea Leers, FAIA, spoke of how their AIA Architecture Firm Award was a product not only of their efforts, but of all those who had worked in their office since its creation in 1982. Recognizing former employees – and the founders’ mothers – as part of a thank you speech seemed especially gracious. Similarly, Maya Lin, following golden-tongued architectural historian VIncent J. Scully, Jr., was more than generous with her praise not only of her former teacher, Scully, but also of her collaborating architects, Kent Cooper, FAIA, and William P. Lecky, AIA, of the Cooper-Lecky Partnership, who share credit for the 25 Year Award winning project, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

By far the speech with the most impact, in my opinion, was that of Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, of New York’s 12th Congressional District, representing parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, 02.07.07, Rep. Velázquez, now Chair of the House Small Business Committee, spoke of the AIA as an organization of small businesses, and addressed the need for national health plans that allow for employees of start-ups and small businesses to have the same benefits as those working at larger established corporations. She also noted how much better it was to be chair, than merely the ranking minority-party member of a House committee, if one wants to be able to bring legislation to the floor of Congress. After her keynote speech, Rep. Velázquez conferred with local AIA members.

One of the other plenary speakers, Sir Ken Robinson, doing a riff on the subject of creativity, remarked that by late afternoon, “most men have used all their words up.” The most interesting speeches at this year’s Grassroots were, notably, by women.