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A universal framework is developed for constructing full-rate and full-diversity coherent space-time codes for systems with arbitrary numbers of transmit and receive antennas. The proposed framework combines space-time layering concepts with algebraic component codes optimized for single-input-single-output (SISO) channels. Each component code is assigned to a "thread" in the space-time matrix, allowing it thus full access to the channel spatial diversity in the absence of the other threads. Diophantine approximation theory is then used in order to make the different threads "transparent" to each other. Within this framework, a special class of signals which uses algebraic number-theoretic constellations as component codes is thoroughly investigated. The lattice structure of the proposed number-theoretic codes along with their minimal delay allow for polynomial complexity maximum-likelihood (ML) decoding using algorithms from lattice theory. Combining the design framework with the Cayley transform allows to construct full diversity differential and noncoherent space-time codes. The proposed framework subsumes many of the existing codes in the literature, extends naturally to time-selective and frequency-selective channels, and allows for more flexibility in the tradeoff between power efficiency, bandwidth efficiency, and receiver complexity. Simulation results that demonstrate the significant gains offered by the proposed codes are presented in certain representative scenarios.