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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

Old Change, New Change, City Change
London was an outpost of the Roman empire and we preserve this heritage below ground. London was the centre of the British Empire and we’re reminded everywhere above ground. Many would like architects to design in a manner that is reminiscent of one or the other.

However the ongoing success of the City, after the stock exchanges, will be through a world-class electronic infrastructure. London needs the City to remain a major player in an age of global connexity. Space has changed. It is a continuum, and Nouvel’s design reflects this. It may remind me of Gehry’s IAC building or of the unbuilt Walbrook Square as a style of the early twenty-first century, but it’s not the only architecture.

The pursuit of an instantly recognisable image that stands out through its geometric form is a sign of our ‘thin’ times, and planners and clients indulge. The emergence of such architecture is akin to the creation of celebrities. But Nouvel’s One New Change hasn’t arisen simply from a desire to occupy the spotlight, nor is it, as some might conclude, architectural stunt-making for its own sake. Rather, it is a clever play at exploiting the urban rules. Its form and colour may not please many, but time will mellow the newness and it will be seen to have been unexpected, successful and intelligent – the stealth bomber’s high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload translated as exploited heavenly air rights and maxed-out development.

In fifty years we will look back, perhaps snarl at the ‘prown’ colour facing the cathedral, but note that it enhances the magnificent but imperfect Portland stone of St Paul’s, and also reflect upon an age when regulations changed the shape of glass buildings… and didn’t some planners, clients and their architects have fun?

Ian Ritchie is director of Ian Ritchie Architects and the Royal Academy Professor of Architecture. He designed the masterplan and original scheme for the Chelsfield development (1997-2004) that was later sold, and modified and developed as Westfield White City (2004-08). Ian Ritchie Architects completed most of the transport infrastructure projects for Westfield, LUL & Network Rail – The Central Line sidings, Wood Lane Station and 10b Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush Rail Station on London Overground and Southern Railways

Project team
Concept architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel;
AJN team: Jean Nouvel, Hala Warde, Stacy Eisenberg, Philippe Monteil; delivery architect: Sidell Gibson Architect; Sidell Gibson team: Sanya Tomic, Andrew Snalune, David Hampton, Lorenzo Poli, David Adams, Noam Rosenkovitch, Shahram Ameryoun, May Jingqi Qin, Armin Rose, Grazyna Reichel, Veronica Um, Magdalena Rychlik, Robin Hewitt, Richard Barry, Liz Ng, Marija Todorovic; structural engineer: Arup; services engineer: Hoare Lea; cost consultant: Davis Langdon; lighting consultant: Speirs & Major; access consultant: Reef Associates; construction manager: Bovis Lend Lease; client: Land Securities.

Selected suppliers and subcontractors
Piling and ground source: Energy Cementation Foundations, Skanska; concrete: Byrne Bros; steelwork: Rowen Structures; cladding: Josef Gartner; arcade shopfronts: Astec Projects; arcade balustrade and glass floor: Optima Architectural Glazing; arcade ceilings: Clark & Fenn, Skanska; stone floor finishes: Szerelmey; office reception and lift lobbies: Sherlock Interiors; toilet fit-out: Swift Horsman; window blinds: Claxton Blinds; feature signage: Endpoint; facade access: Integral Cradles; mechanical: Spie Matthew Hall; ductwork: Gardner & Co; sprinklers: Hall & Kay; electrical: T Clarke; lifts and escalators: Kone; sec