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It’s a MoMA Monster! Nouvel’s Towering Ambitions

75 stories? Did they say 75 STORIES???

Trust me, the neighbors and, hopefully, the City Planning Commission are not going to stand for a 75-story look-at-me skyscraper on this cross street. New York skyscrapers in this part of midtown are customarily consigned to the avenues; the cross streets are less dense and more lowrise in character. West 54th Street is partly residential. Does Hines, the developer, really have the air rights to do this? Is a big zoning variance slugfest on the drawing boards? Fire up Sandy Lindenbaum!

Speaking of zoning, Hines states that “Nouvel’s design maximizes the site while considering the zoning envelope.” The key word may be “considering.”

This brings to mind the big fight a couple of decades ago over whether MoMA’s mixed-use Museum Tower, designed by Cesar Pelli, should be allowed to rise beside it on 53rd Street. There was much talk about possible shadows to be cast on the sculpture garden and traffic nightmares on W.53rd and 54th streets But that 52-story building is dwarfed by Nouvel’s overweening jagged “scream for freedom,” as NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff approvingly called it in his breathlessly supportive preview of the plans.

Ouroussoff writes:

The melding of cultural and commercial worlds offers further proof, if any were needed, that Mr. Nouvel is a master at balancing conflicting urban forces.

Since when is mixed used a stroke of genius? Not for a few decades, at least.

From Hines’ website, we learn that the project will include “a 50,000-square-foot expansion of MoMA’s galleries (levels two to five); a 100-room, seven-star hotel and 120 highest-end residential condominiums on the upper floors….The Hines firm has collaborated with Nouvel on both 40 Mercer in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and on the C1 Tower currently under development in Paris.”

It has also collaborated on big transactions with Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm of MoMA’s board chairman Jerry Speyer, from which Hines has recently purchased several properties (here and here).

I’m still in Philly and not able to manipulate photos for my blog, but you can go here, on Hines’ website, to see a manipulative photo making it appear that the new tower will be less tall that one next to it. Don’t believe it.

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