Author Archives: nhewitt@levelarch.com

10,000 Santa Monica Blvd.

10000 Santa Monica10,000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Construction Detail

It is not everyday that somebody expects you to do the impossible. When one is faced with an impossible challenge one must seize the moment. Often the most important moments in history are marked by impossible odds.

The detail shown is an example of the high tech curtain wall system developed for a condo tower in Century City California. By the time I was asked to prepare a detailed solution for a so called Southern California verdant machine for living, Ateliers Jean Nouvel had already perfected a vertical vegetal wall with Patrick Blanc – albeit of poor quality in my judgement. What had not been done was a horizontal terraced garden that engulfed a facade for 45 stories. The design concept called for a building that had two faces, a dry desert like flora for the facade to the south, and a dense lush flowering garden facade to the north. The overall appearance in fact is of an overgrown garden for living with vast expanses of space.

The concept for the building envelope was to wrap the building with enormous spans of a horizontal curtain wall mega-panel system that allowed for cantilevered hydro-ponic open loop gardens. The detail had to allow for a 3 1/4” seismic drift in all directions. Not only did the mega-panels test the boundaries of the manufacturing limits in the US, they required sophisticated stick/stack erection and an adjustable cleat system which tied back into the post tensioned perimeter beam of the building’s structure.

Although the design vision called for no vertical curtain wall elements, I had to explain that the limits of physics as we know them still restrict the possibilities of the impossible. However, what we were able to do was create horizontal munton spans of over 15’ in some cases. The mega-panels were set on tracks in certain areas to allow for the full length of the exterior wall to slide open, providing areas within that were completely open to the cantilevered gardens.

The cantilevered gardens encircled the entire perimeter of the facade for the full height of the building. The gardens were maintained from the exterior and accessible via a window washing system. The hydro-ponic system was tied into the buildings grey-water system and were circulated through an advanced nutrient cycle. A removable grow tray was locked into the cantilevered structure and connected to the nutrient drip supply and drainage loop. The grow trays were 2’x6’ St. Stl. and were easily replaced or interchanged with new lush plants as required. This also allowed for the vegetation to be grown during construction and installed for full effect at commissioning. The building presented its architectural appeal upon substantial completion.

MoMA Tower – BIM Parametric Model

MoMA BIM ModelMoMA Tower, NYC

Ateliers Jean Nouvel
BIM Parametric Model

As the Chef de Projet I was directly involved in the development and modification of the Parametric Building Information Model for the Museum of Modern Art Tower. The model was built in Rhino, Revit and Catia. We also did some preliminary modeling in Navis Works.

As the design evolved and the stacking diagram studies were performed we needed a completely flexible platform for developing and advancing the 3D model. A building design of this caliber required constant updating and demanded a software which could calculate angle changes at the floor lines and inflection points. The curtain wall system required specific hold points and connection tolerances at the unitized panels, floor stacking joints and diagrid structure nodes. The latticework of the structure was also fritted onto the curtain wall glass, and required in depth coordination and precision alignment for surface prints.

Having the 3D model of the building built many times in several platforms gave us an advanced understanding of the numerous components and trouble areas. By modeling the curtain wall extrusions and diagrid structure with nodes and parametric components, we were able to coordinate every floor to floor height modifications and stacking joint angle immediately and in unison. We were also capable of swapping out multiple building design options with ease.

Although the most desirable approach to BIM management would have been to create our own software technology, this would have required a major investment in time and resources. REVIT Software proved incapable of meeting the highly advanced requirements of our team. Catia proved to be the most powerful software for advanced modeling of building systems. Concern about ultimate control and responsibility of the master model, and a reluctance of consultants to adapt was also a problem during the design and documentation process.

100 Eleventh Avenue

100 Eleventh Ave100 Eleventh Avenue , Chelsea NYC

Ateliers Jean Nouvel – Built 2010
Design Collaborator & Curtain Wall Consultant

At times architectural design and the building process are at odds. Sometimes this tension is reflected in a buildings forms, as it is in this 23 story high-end luxury condominium. As this building emerged from the ground it overwhelmed the corner of this site with a guarded insecurity. As the facade formalizes its relationship to the street and invites the city to participate in its expression and function, it will undoubtedly shroud itself in conceit. It sits juxtaposed to the soft swelling of it’s neighbor, Gehry’s IAC building, and shrugs off the hard edges of the city behind it. The matte black masonry rear wall is its sardonic yawn. The uniqueness of the tesselated and shimmering front facade is overwhelming. What is interesting is that the building uses no technical chicanery to reflect the harbor beyond, it is honest in its construction. The curved front face acts as the rippling plane of the shoreline, but it still leaves the observer wondering and evokes emotion.

To achieve the mosaic of reflections, each glass panel assembly is designed and detailed to sit at different angles, requiring complex technical detailing and coordination. Each pre-fab window is coupled within a Megapanel, totalling 165 Megapanels. The unitized curtain wall system was fabricated in China and transported piece by piece to NYC. As the Senior Detailing consultant my task was to preserve the integrity of the original design by Ateliers Jean Nouvel while preparing the technical documents that meet the demanding needs of the NYC environment.

MoMA Tower – Tour Verre

MoMA TowerMoMA Tower

53W53rd Street, New York, NY

Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Chef de Projet / Project Manager – 2007 – present
SD and DD phase completed

Architectural design and visualization of lobby, amenities and the core and shell. Coordination with local architects structural and mechanical engineers. Control of parametric model and exterior visualization of the building. BIM coordination in (Catia).

For Jean Nouvel architecture is a game. His mastery of cognitive distortion is an exercise in the play of light on a surface, or jue.

The MoMA tower is an appropriate expression of New York skyscraper . The design tapers into a spire, drawing inspiration from an Art Deco New York, as envisioned by Hugh Ferriss’ 1930’s drawings. The tapering tower is a deliberate response to the mandated setbacks outlined in the zoning law. It is exaggerated by the challenging site and small footprint.

As a contextual response to the rhythm of the city, it is an emblem of the driving force of power and aesthetic ambition. I am compelled mostly by it’s strong presence on the site. By its enormous structure that anchors the building deep into the ground, literally and visually. The viewer at street level can see the diagrid penetrating through the ground floor and into the schist of the foundation below. There is a visual connection to the lower levels from the sidewalk above, the ground level is open to below and public. By doubling the size of the existing Museum of Modern Art gallery space the building is not only a private fortress, but a cultural beacon. A direct visual connection from the street to the galleries and the art handling operations at the lower levels makes this building accessible and demonstrates itself as part of the city.

The rhythm of the city beats louder than its street presence. It is also its historic footprint. An isomorphic threshold [as expressed in the mapping between objects that show the relationship between two properties] where the structures are identical despite fine variation. As we continue to live in the districts of the past, we live in nearly identical structures. We are reflections, fleeting yet real. However, buildings like the MoMA tower express our identity in a new way. One building rises higher than its surrounding. It grows larger than its shell.

At the corner of the block, as part of the air rights package, the steeple of St. Thomas Church at 5th Avenue was once the tallest structure. The steeple rose as a beacon. The bell tower anchored the building to the site. Similar to the Medieval & Renaissance church expansions, using their old apses as the transept, a new larger apse was built and a new steeple would rise. Here, the museum block expands, the composition grows, a new beacon rises into the sky. The museum is anchored in a new orientation and a symbol emerges. The beacon visually erodes at the top, it dematerializes. It disappears into the sky and reflects the changing atmospheric mood of the city. It becomes a tour sans fin.

The MoMA tower tricks the observer with its reflections. Everything disappears except the diagrid structural system, irregular and asymmetric, it rises into the sky like a sunburst. At its soaring heights the occupants reside in a protective cage, the structural members are an enormous crisscrossing presence. Structuralist in its birth, giving pleasure or beguiling the observer.

New York Times Headquarters

NY Times

New York Times Headquarters
Renzo Piano Building Workshop / FX Fowle Architects
Completed 2005

Project Architect and Senior Level Curtain Wall Designer – 2001 – 2004

Coordinate with Design Architect as part of Architect of Record team. Communicate with large international team, including consulting engineers.  Manage project data flow and work flow. Control of 3D model, CD’s and exterior visualization of the building in Microstation and Triforma/BIM.

A skyscraper in the classical tectonic sense. Renzo Piano’s design is sensitive to the relationship of the overall form and its articulation of the construction details at every scale. Construction as craft is front and center, and technical expression is refined and contemporary, though there is no attempt at breaking any new theoretical ground.

The expression of the materials are limited to a hard cold representation of component parts. There is no mystery or dramatic play with the observers senses.

The building is extremely efficient and flexible, making it a highly advanced office tower. An open plan at the office floors invites light deep into the core. Sunshading and raised floors precede the green building trend. It is a ideal representation of adjacent uses in a repetitive matrix. It functions as a news center that speaks to the street manifested in the open courtyard plan. With retail uses encircling the podium as the news room buzzes openness and light above, it is the heart of New York City’s media culture.

The building’s major flaw is not at all in the inherent ladder-like curtain wall. It is the disappointing last minute change of color for the building exterior which completely changed the aesthetic of the building and it’s imprint on the city. Instead of the proposed white, starched and pressed, intended by the original design, the building is an ominous gotham gray.