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Attacking the MoMA Monster: Community Board 5 Nixes Nouvel Tower

Rendering of Jean Nouvel’s design for 53 W. 53rd Street, NYC

Unanimously approved last month’s by New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (despite community opposition), Jean Nouvel‘s design for a soaring glass tower, contiguous with the Museum of Modern Art, hit a snag last week when Manhattan Community Board 5 voted against the project, 30 to 9 (with one abstaining and another “not entitled to vote”). The board’s input, forwarded to New York’s Department of City Planning, is purely advisory.

The 82-story, mixed-use building would contain nearly 52,000 square feet for another expansion of MoMA, increasing its gallery space by 39 percent. It would be built on land sold by the museum to the developer.

Wait a minute! Did the community board say this building was 82 STORIES? In the original announcement, back in November 2007, it was a mere 75 stories, which seemed monstrous enough for that location.

In its resolution addressed to City Planning chair Amanda Burden, the community board argued that, at 1,250 feet, the proposed tower would be “one of the tallest buildings in the city” and would be “simply too large for its site.” The board also took a direct swipe at MoMA, alleging that “it has generally developed very bad relations with its residential neighbors and is not perceived to treat residential concerns seriously.”

In any event, it seems doubtful that the developer, Hines, could be in any rush to break ground on the mega-project in this gloomy real estate climate.

I’m not saying that I don’t want MoMA to expand any further—just not in this manner. There are many goals yet to be addressed that I had hoped would be fulfilled by the recent Taniguchi-designed mega-expansion, but weren’t.

My own guess is that City Planning will insist on some modifications of the project and then approve it.

For the last word (in this post, anyway) on the Nouvel project, let’s go to the doyenne of architecture criticism, Ada Louise Huxtable, who writes for the Wall Street Journal. She recently told the NY Times:

I am so weary of these stupid alliances between developers and
cultural institutions in which the cultural institution is given a
block of space and the developers overbuild the rest and make an
enormous profit.

The Museum of Modern Art has become a real
estate operation. I admit a certain amount of nostalgia: I remember a
street that was once one of the best streets in New York, 53rd Street.
Watching it change over the years, I can’t help but view their new
Nouvel tower as the last destructive nail.

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