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Nouvel Designs Towering Slender Neighbor for MoMA

January 30, 2008

By Tim McKeough

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is getting a surprisingly tall, and stunningly slender, neighbor. Real estate developer Hines is planning a 75-story tower designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel for a narrow, 17,000-square-foot site directly west of the museum. When complete, the building is expected to rise nearly as high as the 1,047-foot-tall Chrysler Building.

75-story tower designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Images courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Atelier Jean Nouvel has designed a 75-story tower for a slender site adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan (left). The building could rise more than 1,000 feet tall (right).
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Hines purchased the land parcel from MoMA for $125 million in January 2007. As part of a complicated deal, the museum will be allowed to expand into the second, fourth, and fifth floors of the new building, giving it an additional 50,000 square feet of exhibition space to add to its existing 125,000 square feet.

Nouvel proposes a glass-clad tower exuberantly crisscrossed with steel framing. The structure slopes gradually away from 53rd and 54th Streets as it rises. To generate its irregular shape, the design team essentially extruded the entire site but lopped off tall, triangular wedges on each side to comply with parcel limits and setbacks. The steel, according to the design proposal, follows “the simplest and most economical geometry,” while the glazing respects standard glass dimensions. The proposal also calls for solar panels and wind turbines to fill the top of the spire; no word yet, though, on whether or not Hines will pursue a LEED rating for the project.

Inside, the building will feature a sunken restaurant and bar, and a bridge connecting entrances on 53rd Street and 54th Street. In addition to MoMA’s 50,000-square-foot stake, Hines has tentatively earmarked space for a 100-room “seven-star” hotel and 120 “highest-end” residential condominiums.

Hines reviewed proposals from a handful of architects before announcing that Nouvel won the commission in November. The developer has also worked with Nouvel on the 40 Mercer condominiums in SoHo and the C1 Tower in Paris.

“We found there were a number of excellent ideas, but that Jean’s general direction was the most compelling,” says David Penick, Hines’s managing partner for the project, which is tentatively named 53 W 53rd Street. “We also feel that there’s a good story about his design idea, which will support the approval process. That story is basically that the form of the building is inspired by the allowable zoning.”

So far the tower has met with mixed public reactions. While some observers, such as Nicolai Ouroussoff of The New York Times, welcome such a unique addition to the Manhattan skyline, others, including Bloomberg’s James S. Russell, suggest that the building is too big for its site—even if it conforms to zoning.

According to Penick, the tower “is consistent with the underlying zoning of the block. We’re not creating any new bonus or any new source of air rights. There are a number of low-scale buildings on the block, so this is what can result from that.” In any case, suggesting a tall building doesn’t belong in midtown Manhattan is a difficult argument. “The New York skyline is a pretty dynamic and exciting thing. It’s certainly a big building in the context of neighboring buildings—some are larger, some are smaller—but in the overall scheme of things, it seems appropriate.”

If all goes according to plan, Penick says, Hines will start construction in mid 2009 and finish by the end of 2012.

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