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Critique of Jean Nouvel’s One New Change (for Architecture Today)

Jean Nouvel - One New Change. Photo © Paul Riddle

Photo © Paul Riddle

Facing St Paul’s the block is sliced, as if by a butcher’s knife, to open up and mark its centre. Over the road is the area formerly known as The Shambles – the meat market – which finds its echo in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, announced with meat carcasses in Watling Street. Although it is discreetly located in the slice, the diagonal fenestration jars, as it does on other look-at-me towers in the city. The diagonal line belongs to an industrial and structural aesthetic – something Nouvel acquired in his youth that is now embedded in his neural network. He just can’t hold it back as it also slides out across the ceiling of the retail streets.

With one’s back to the cathedral the choice is between the ‘mining entrance’ leading to the escalator down into the underground retail, past an end-of-the pier distorted reflected image of St Paul’s, or to stride ahead into the chasm towards the exposed lifts. Both entrances first squeeze you before opening up in an explosion of colour and lights as walkways collide with multiple reflections of shopfronts inverted by polished coloured surfaces. This is the world of glamour and gratification, of body wrap and lettuce wrap. Nouvel loves black and red, and dark interiors, but this is urban entertainment rather than opera house, and the new-born buzz is palpable. The tight, carved upper level concourses are catwalks in disguise – they go nowhere but that doesn’t matter – City workers can window-strut. This is indoor-outdoor space, set on the Central Line between the hermetically-sealed malls of Westfield at White City and its twin (coming soon) at Stratford.