an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Nouvel’s World: 1,250-Foot-High Glass Tower “Not a Huge Building”

Jean Nouvel at NY City Planning Commission’s MoMA/Hines hearing

“Three minutes for ME?” lamented Jean Nouvel, when the speaker’s cut-off bell had tolled for him at the NY City Planning Commission’s recent hearing on the proposed MoMA/Hines tower. [Previous CultureGrrl posts on that hearing are here and here.]

The French architect had
just flown in to lend his Pritzker Prize-winning prestige to the
proceedings, but was accorded no more time to discuss his project than any of the other speakers, pro and con, who overflowed the meeting room at
22 Reade St. and also filled the large anteroom. Fortunately, the commissioners’ subsequent questions allowed Nouvel some room to expand upon his comments.


The commission’s chic chairperson, Amanda Burden
(center, above), uncharacteristically reached for her eyeglasses for Nouvel’s
presentation—the better to see the various photos and drawings
assembled on the board behind him.

Like the project’s lawyer, Michael Sillerman, who had spoken directly before Nouvel (see second link above), the architect seemed intent on making a very tall structure (the same 1,250-foot height as the Empire State Building without its antenna) seem diminutive:

Height is [only] one parameter of the scale….It’s a small building—650,000 square feet. It’s not a huge building….In the skyline of the city, it doesn’t have the same importance as the other one [the Empire State]. It’s slimmer. It’s modest, in a way, because it’s only a needle.

When one of the commissioners inquired whether there would be any area for public access at the top of the tower, Nouvel first mentioned the Museum of Modern Art’s gallery space at the base. Then he answered:

It’s very important to have this needle at the end and this immateriality at the end. So we cannot go to the top of every tower. But I think this building will be important in the skyline.

He also touched on the building’s “immateriality” when he described the experience within it:

What I proposed here is to have a kind of skeleton. [The information packet for the project calls it a “dynamic structural steel diagrid.”]…We arrived very naturally at a kind of random system, a kind of net….When you are inside you have the feeling that there are no mullions. You are really in the sky.

Here’s one image of sky dwellers, from the project’s information packet:


Chairperson Burden expressed a desire to view a model of the project, whereupon this very schematic one came out of hiding:


wish I had been able to take a video showing you how the spike at the center, representing Nouvel’s tower, teetered and had to be rescued from a near-toppling when this rendering was deposited on the table. The Whitney Museum won the model beauty contest hands down, with a considerably more detailed, impressive (and stable) display piece, fitted out with
trees, little silver people and sculptures, arrayed on Renzo Piano‘s appealing stepped terraces.

Here’s the mock-up presented to the commission about a year ago by the Whitney, which won easy, unanimous approval for its own planned expansion. (The vote on MoMA/Hines is scheduled for Sept. 9.):


Speaking of the Whitney, its director, Adam Weinberg, arrived at the MoMA/Hines hearing with every intention of testifying in support of
his MoMA colleagues. It was not to be, however: Adam understandably could not spend his entire day waiting for his allotted three minutes. After patiently and fruitlessly biding his time, he left the building for his 2 p.m. commitment.

he had headed back uptown along Manhattan’s west side, he must have gazed upon the site of his
planned (but delayed) Downtown Whitney, where the fanciful cow mural on the Premier Veal (Lamb Too) building continues to evade the wrecker’s ball:


On that same drive uptown, he could also have seen a New York Nouvel—a luxury apartment building now in construction:


100 Eleventh Avenue, describe by Nouvel as “a vision machine”

To its right of this building, just across the street, you can glimpse the edge of Frank Gehry‘s IAC headquarters (formerly the backdrop for the “boyfriend trousers“).

There’s something of artistic interest just to the other side of
Nouvel’s building-in-progress, but it’s suffered
construction-obstruction. The elderly artist whose 1970 mural is now
largely obscured by Nouvel’s “vision machine” made his displeasure known in a most unusual, provocative way.

COMING SOON: Knox Nixes Nouvel.

an ArtsJournal blog