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Architect Jean Nouvel visits the Mohawk Theater with Mayor Richard Alcombright to view the scale model of the Empire State Building under construction for the forthcoming Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum in Heritage Park.
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Nouvel, left, Nicolai Ouroussoff, former chief architecture critic of the New York Times, and the mayor look over models built for the model railroad museum.

Renowned Architect Tours North Adams' Theater, Heritage Park

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Nouvel taking a tour of Mass MoCA with Director Joseph Thompson.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel toured the city this past Saturday with Mayor Richard Alcombright and Thomas Krens to show him some of the redevelopment ideas being considered.

Krens, former director of the Guggenheim and founder of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, is developing an extreme model railroad museum in Western Gateway Heritage State Park and is bullish on the concept of a boutique hotel and refurbished Mohawk Theater. He's also looking at a for-profit art museum near the airport.

That's all part of a concept to develop a "cultural corridor" along Route 2 from the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown to the center of North Adams.

"The expansion of the dream or the vision has spread to the Main Street and the downtown," said the mayor on Thursday. "[Nouvel] was very interested in the development and interested in the hotel and the theater."

He described any conversation with Nouvel as "in its initial phases," saying they had talked about current projects and concepts and "ideas that could contribute to the economic revitalization of the city."

Nouvel and Krens are friends who have collaborated on several projects. They appeared on Oct. 28 at the "Lunch at the Landmark" annual event in New York City, where Nouvel discussed some of his projects including the under-construction Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Krens had invited him back to his Williamstown home and to see the area, which he'd not visited in nearly a dozen years.

"I had the pleasure of meeting him and showing him around," said Alcombright, saying the French architect seemed to be "intrigued" by the historic buildings on Main Street's sunny side and Krens' ideas. Among those is the architecture and model railroad museum with its to-scale 31-foot-tall Empire State Building, recently moved from Mass MoCA to the empty Mohawk.

"We brought him in to see the Empire State Building so he would have a sense of the size and scope of the project," the mayor said.

Nouvel spent quite a bit of time looking at Heritage Park, and the natural scenery. He also toured the Clark Art
and met with its new Director Olivier Meslay, the Williams College campus, and Mass MoCA with Director Joseph C. Thompson, before heading back to Paris.

Alcombright said he was very complimentary of the city, which led the mayor to decide to issue a press release earlier this week on the architect's visit.

"A lot of people of great influence and reputation are noticing us," he said, noting the "world renowned" artists and cultural leaders coming to the area, "we forget about how important we are."

Nouvel, not unlike fellow Pritzker-winner Tadao Ando, architect of the new Clark with its focus on natural elements, considers the context of a site when developing his designs.

"I think the situation for me is the history of the place, the culture, the spirit of the city, the moment in time," he said at "Lunch at a Landmark," according to The Architects Newspaper. "I think there are lots of different situations and if we make the same projects for all of these different situations, then you won't know where you are when you travel around the world. So for me, contextuality must be the main parameter."

Among Nouvel's most famous buildings are the Institute of the Arab World, the Cartier Foundation, the Paris Philharmonic, and the Musée du Quai Branley in Paris; KKL Lucerne, a multi-use cultural building and convention center in Switzerland; the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis; the Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen; and One Central Park in Sydney, Australia.

His body of work has been recognized with numerous international awards, including the Pritzker Prize for Architecture; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; the Royal Gold Medal for architecture awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the British monarch; and the Wolf Prize in Arts.

"The concept of a cultural corridor in northwest Massachusetts is unique. The existing institutions are phenomenal. The combination of elements that exists here is like no other that I know of," Nouvel said in a statement released by Bertram Beissel von Gymnich, director of his New York office. "The landscape, the topography, the colors, and the collision of Main Street, the overpass, and the railroad lends itself to an extraordinary and precise intervention or series of interventions that would preserve the scale of the city, and build on the concentration of cultural resources in the region."

Nouvel is the latest friend of Krens to visit the gateway city. Last year, his motorcycle club — including Laurence Fishburne and Jeremy Irons — roared to the Mohawk to brainstorm ideas. And former governors William Weld and Michael Dukakis are onboard with the model railroad museum.

"The idea of having someone of this wonderfully positive notoriety coming to the city and looking at your stuff is pretty impressive," the mayor said of Nouvel. "It gives another level of credibility to the things Tom Krens is trying to do here."


Tags: architecture ,   Heritage State Park,   model railroad,   Mohawk Theater,   

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