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New York, USA – Jean Nouvel's newest addition to the New York cityscape

West Side storeys: Jean Nouvel establishes a new benchmark on the Hudson shore

Lower Manhattan is awash with new luxury condo blocks, and most of them are precious or dull. They strive for a unique allure to justify stratospheric prices while struggling to fit into the dense fabric of historic districts such as the West Village.

That’s a contradiction few architects have mastered, but the challenge is easier on the western edge of Chelsea, which has a looser weave and is still a work in progress. A few blocks of the High Line have been opened as an elevated park, with much more to come, and new apartment towers are going up alongside former warehouses.

But the broad West Side Highway, formerly a bustling harbourfront, still feels like a tabula rasa.

Jean Nouvel has created a condo tower that breaks free of the constraints that muzzled him in Soho and have diminished his design for a slender shaft alongside MoMA on West 53 Street.

The 23-storey tower, called 100 11th, occupies a corner site directly across 19th Street from Gehry Partners’ IAC Building, a billowing cloud of fretted glass. The rounded corner is like a prow pointing out to the river and the two main facades are clad in a curtain wall in which panes of different dimensions are tilted within their frames.

In contrast to the flush glazing of the Cartier Foundation in Paris and the Dentsu Building in Tokyo, this facade serves as a kaleidoscope to trap and refract light, giving the building depth. The same glass panels are incorporated into a screen wall, seven stories high, which is set 4.5m forward of the tower and breaks open at the corner.

As with the Cartier and the Quai Branly Museum, it maintains the original street line, besides enclosing an area that doubles as a café terrace and as a winter garden for residents in the lower apartments. The steel supporting structure is a mechanistic sculpture that supports trees in planters. The building is a marker, responding to context while establishing a sense of place.

Its height and faceted surface complement Gehry’s sleek sails, which distort and dissolve its geometry. The rear facade is clad in black brick with irregularly spaced openings and tilted planes that abstract the industrial past and the 19th-century apartment blocks along Tenth Avenue. From within, the small rear windows frame vignettes of the Manhattan skyline. Perimeter concrete beams support long spans, and most apartments enjoy sweeping, column-free views of river and sky to the south and west.

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