The strange thing about West Chelsea’s new chic is that it must contend with acres of immutable drear. It remains a mouse-gray zone. Nouvel’s bauble rises alongside broad rapids of traffic, and its adorable little balconies catch the rising fumes. With astonishing sleight of hand, Nouvel has managed to keep the apartments simultaneously protected from the street and open to the views by sandwiching sunrooms and outdoor spaces between layers of glass. The wall of windows drops all the way down to the street, and the lower stories have a second perimeter of glass panes and voids: a rhythmic alternation of nothing and almost nothing. In other works, Nouvel has mastered the architecture of desire, a play of screens and veils. Here he offers a teasing double layer of peekaboo gauziness. He has presented the city with a proud object of desire, an emblem of real estate’s timeless erotic appeal.
There’s something exhilarating, and also amusing, about the arrival of such an exuberant building in somber times, like a bride bursting into a funeral hall. Perhaps 100 Eleventh isn’t late to the last party, but early to the next one. This is New York: Excess will eventually seem natural again, and when it does, this building will be ready to oblige.
Nouvel’s building represents commercial development at its finest, but it remains at odds with the High Line, which was brought into being by activists who took the notion of grassroots quite literally. Idealistic designers restored railings and doled out stairways, and chose grasses to recall the tranquil days when the structure was beautifully forgotten. Their efforts attracted commerce, which is only to be expected; if the Garden of Eden reopened today, someone would put up time-shares just outside the gates. Maybe the recession is the purists’ revenge. The green is gone, while the greenery is just getting lush.