Text by Edward Keegan, AIA
For Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, there’s neither a typical nor an ordinary project. From the luminous double-walled, glass-and-concrete Torre Agbar in Barcelona to the subtly battered Hôtel de Police in Charleroi, Belgium, he has consistently brought surprising formal inventions to the high-rise genre. Paris-based Ateliers Jean Nouvel’s latest exploration in the type is no less memorable: White Walls is a 220-foot-tall, white-painted concrete structure in Nicosia, Cyprus. The 107,639-square-foot trapezoidal tower, which includes two floors of retail, six floors of offices, and 10 floors of apartments, cuts a memorable figure on the skyline with pixelated cut-outs on the east and west façades (above) that offer glimpses of gardens within.
The structure’s south façade (opposite) is angular and hard-edged, in contrast to the softer, rounded balconies, rendered in white-painted concrete, of the north façade (opening spread). Vegetation bursts from each balcony, covering roughly 80 percent of the south face and providing substantial shade during the summer while still allowing sun to penetrate to the interior during winter months. Nouvel subverts the standard structural logic of the tall building by constructing concrete piers at the east and west ends—which contain standard core elements such as stairs and elevator, and more private programmatic functions such as meeting rooms and bedrooms. These piers are joined by column-free spans that serve as open offices in the lower floors and open-plan living areas in the residences above. The architect plays with the nature of a concrete wall though the varied perforations (above), which make the vertical surface appear in some instances to be a simple screen, at other times a protective shell. The larger openings are filled with verdant gardens that overflow their containers and sprout lush green foliage from the building’s envelope.
Both apartments and offices feature substantial outdoor loggias (opposite) that allow all building occupants to enjoy Nicosia’s temperate climate. Voids and windows in the concrete walls are designed to a module of 0.4 meters—almost 16 inches—square. This dimension gave the architects freedom to pattern the building’s east and west façades with various scales of these apertures, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between single- and double-height spaces from outside. The perforations blur—in ever so digital a manner—any meaningful sense of scale among the building’s 18 floors. The balconies to the north and south ensure that every room, even the apartment kitchens (above), has an outdoor connection. A duplex apartment (top) caps the tower; its central courtyard layout is based on Cyprus’ traditional architecture, with sloped louvers providing shade while retaining views to the sky. In Nicosia, Nouvel integrates tower and landscape while employing the white walls of the island’s vernacular, rendered larger, and in formally inventive and surprising ways.
Project: White Walls (Tower 25), Nicosia, Cyprus
Client: Nice Day Developments
Design Architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Paris . Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA (founder); Emmanuel Blamont (adviser to Jean Nouvel); Philippe Papy, Elisabeth Kather (project leaders); Sony Devabhaktuni, Nobuo Yoshida (architects)
Local Collaborating Architect: Takis Sophocleous Architects, Nicosia . Anastasia Koumoulidou, Demetris Sophocleous
Structural Engineer: KAL Engineering
M/E/P/FP Engineer: Mitsides Samouhl & Partners
Quantity Surveyor: Nicolaou & Konnides
Size: 10,000 square meters (107,639 square feet)
Cost: €11.5 million ($12.9 million)
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS:
The iconic tower designed by Jean Nouvel at the center of Nicosia, next to Eleftheria Square transforms the city silhouette of Nicosia. The program includes 10- story residential apartments, a 6-story office space and a 2-story retail area. This verticality in relation to the horizontality of the medieval walls and the moat that enclose the old part of the city sets the stage for a series of inversions that are characteristic of the building. The 67 meter high building will be the culminating landmark of the city.
On the south façade a vertical landscape covers approximately 80% of the building’s façade area. This exceptional living environment is working like a natural “brise soleil”. The plants will act as a natural sun control shielding the apartments and the offices from direct sun during summer while admitting a maximum of sunlight in winter. This “living “façade” supports a variety of Cypriote climbing and spreading plants and will be continually transformed by the cyclic movements of the different seasons. 400 years old olive trees continue this vertical landscape on the perimeter of the building. It creates the link to the adjacent urban park and gets a part of the scenery of the city. The apartments and office feature indoor/outdoor loggias that extend the living space outside to take maximum advantage of Nicosia’s temperate climate.
On the north façade, the loggias extend out to take maximum advantage of views toward the park and the city skyline. A series of cascading terraces and large balconies acknowledge the Mediterranean climate and the significance of spending time outside.
On the east and west façade the loggias extend in from the pixelated concrete walls façade to protect residents and office occupiers from noise, wind and sun.
Punctured by a random array of openings, sometimes glazed sometimes left open, especially in the garden areas, the massiveness of the walls is negated by the numerous perforations. Interesting shadow games determine the exterior and interior space in relation to the different sun position of the day. An accumulation of voids and windows shaped by a size of 0,40m x 0,40m creates a unique screen image from the outside and inside point of view. At night the wall as a giant screen is pronouncing the inhabitants light needs and strengthen even more the random system of the facade.
On the top two floors of the tower, a duplex apartment is organized around a central court-yard inspired by the Cypriot traditional architecture. Three large shades protect the apartment from the summer sun and emphasize the view to the sky.
The project will push the integration of landscape and tower architecture to a new level and offer Nicosia a new architectural icon that symbolizes the city’s future.