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An array of sensations can come over a person fumbling with the water knobs in the shower: a sudden chill, perhaps, or a burning blast. French architect Jean Nouvel reacted on a higher plane. "There's something archaic about turning knobs to make water run," he says. "The controls should be something you caress rather than manipulate." Thus Nouvel, who designed such innovative buildings as the Torre Agbar in Barcelona and the newly opened Muse du Quai Branly in Paris, had found another design challenge. Upscale home-furnishing stores are now rolling out his bathroom fixtures, which he designed to eliminate drips, washers...