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Oct 23, 2008

By combining innovative design with advanced technologies, Enrique Norten is redefining contemporary architecture.

By Donna Sapolin

On a warm evening in early fall, Mexican architect Enrique Norten glances up at One York, the taut glass structure that rises from the center of an aged warehouse building in downtown New York.

Enrique Norten gives FLYP commentary on his architecture: Watch a video of Enrique Norten discussing his design for One York in New York City.

It is opening night for this residential tower, a crystalline emblem of design and technology’s forward march. The building’s sheer core bridges its humble 19th-century brick sidekicks with a rakish elegance that broadcasts a vigorous spirit of innovation.
One York is the first completed building in New York from Norten’s team at TEN Arquitectos, a firm with offices in Mexico City and New York that is garnering worldwide acclaim for it’s growing roster of influential design projects.

Watch a video of Enrique Norten discussing his design for the Chopo Museum in Mexico City, Mexico.


Norten’s buildings heed the clarion call to find new solutions to complex problems through the use of advanced technology housed in forms that manage to be simultaneously stark and graceful—even as they absorb and preserve older structures, as is the case with the Chopo Museum that is nearing completion in Mexico City.
“We are totally committed to doing contemporary architecture,” declares Norten. “We experiment, do research and try to be at the edges, and never at the comfortable center.”
Both literal and figurative beacons of hope, Norten’s works rally visitors, occupants and onlookers alike with a physical promise to revive communities and resolve environmental challenges.
His Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico—a soaring glass tube encasing inward-looking, vertically stacked galleries—rises above a deep canyon forged by past geological upheavals.

Watch a video of Enrique Norten discussing his design for the Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Despite its floating, suspended-in-air character, the totemic building will be able to withstand powerful earthquakes. The structure seems to anchor the shifting grounds, imbuing them with a sense of stability.
His Clinton Park mixed-use development turns its back on Manhattan’s classic tower forms and proposes a new iconography.

Watch a video of Enrique Norten discussing his design for the Clinton Park building in New York City.

Occupying almost an entire city block, the building ingeniously adopts a serpentine form that careens in multiple directions and combines sheer glass sections with more opaque ones.
The design serves to temper the building’s energy needs and satisfy city codes without elaborate demonstrations of efficiency.

Few architects have Norten’s powerful record of accomplishment. His built projects began in 1985 and now number around 50. He has won numerous architectural awards for his works, which encompass virtually every building typology.
At any given time, Norten’s two 40-person offices are juggling multi-phase designs for architectural competitions (some of which involve developing huge master plans), creating new homes for prominent individuals and cultural institutions, and forging mixed-use Meccas.

In our video interview, Enrique Norten talks about his drive for innovation and his history of designing sustainable architecture.

Presently, Norten’s team is working on a home in Miami; a master plan for Rutgers University; and mixed-use projects in Los Angeles and Irvine, Calif., and Fayetteville, N.C.
This month will see him darting between Philadelphia, where he teaches a design studio at the University of Pennsylvania, and his offices in Mexico City and New York. From these two home bases, he will be flying to London, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Brazil and Ecuador to address other projects either under consideration or underway.


InTENtions, an extremely well-received and well-attended exhibition currently on show at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Monterrey, Mexico, focuses on Norten’s work of the last ten years.
Through a series of drawings, models and photographs, the exhibition captures the convoluted metamorphoses through which architectural concepts become actual buildings.
“The end result is always obvious,” says Norten. “People will read about it and go visit it, but very few know what goes into achieving it. This exhibition is about sharing how we get there.”

Watch a video of Enrique Norten discussing his exhibition at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Monterrey, Mexico.

It is obvious from the show that Norten is placing an increasing emphasis on sustainability. While his buildings have been investigating and, indeed, incorporating environmentally protective features for years, the heightening urgency of tackling climate change and the emergence of green technologies have catapulted the architectural field forward.
These new developments are enabling unprecedented engineering options that have a bearing not just on function, but also the appearance of a structure.
“I grew up and worked in the low-technology environment of Latin America, where we were forced to work very concertedly with materials; the environment; and structural, construction and social systems—all the things that together make for a sustainable architecture,” says Norten. “Now we are studying and applying emergent technologies that are making buildings and cities ever more efficient and stable.”
The fusion of Mexican and American sensibilities into a cohesive design vocabulary lends unique energy to his work, he says. Though he leaves it up to others to assess his legacy, he relishes the privilege of having his concepts assume physical form.
“You can see that work age, see people reacting to it,” says Norten. “In the end, though, it is about living up to responsibilities to individuals, communities and institutions. My role is to do the best I can each and every day.”

In our interactive slide show, see five of Norten’s buildings that are pushing the architectural envelope.

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