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It’s Ba-a-a-a-ck: Nouvel’s MoMA Monster Files Revised Plans with the City

Northwest view of the new MoMA Monster, truncated by architect Jean Nouvel
Photos of plans by Lee Rosenbaum

Almost two years after architect Jean Nouvel was sent back to the drawing board by New York’s City Planning Commission and City Council to lop 200 feet off his MoMA Monster (reducing its height to 1,050 feet), the developer, Hines, has at last submitted new plans to the city for the “asymmetrical, multi-faceted spire,” which includes space for yet another expansion of the Museum of Modern Art.

Market conditions, as much as (or more than) development complications, have stalled the progress of the project. Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post recently reported (scroll down) that Hines is said to be “casting around for an equity partner to get its stalled 53 W. 53rd St. residential/hotel tower off the ground.”

I recently perused the latest public filings for the project, readily accessible by appointment, at the Department of City Planning. (The Observer‘s Matt Chaban, who wrote that he had made a “public information request” to see these government documents, had an appointment directly after mine. His report is here.)

The City Planning Commission’s chair, Amanda Burden, pronounced herself pleased with the revisions.

“The top is glorious,” Burden told me when I ran into her at the Downtown Whitney’s groundbreaking, before the plans were formally filed. “It’s going to be a great signature addition to the skyline.” She added that the building’s “facets are more pronounced” and there is more of a sense of movement around the exterior.

In a draft report, the commission had criticized the design for giving insufficient attention to the design of the tower’s apex. In particular, the commission was “not satisfied with the attempts at incorporating mechanical equipment into the tower top, which results in a tower top with highly visible mechanical equipment.” (The top four floors in the new design are still occupied by mechanical equipment.)

While there are as yet no full-color, detailed renderings of the tower’s appearance, there are numerous line drawings from different perspectives. Here’s a view from the northeast (a flipside of the view at the top of this post):

Northeast view of the MoMA/Hines tower

And here’s a view that gives a clearer sense of the various segments of the building, which rise to different heights:


George Lancaster, Hines’ spokesperson, told me that renderings will be provided “later this year.” The images and information provided by Hines on the project’s webpage are outdated.

Here’s how the tower’s “Key Architectural and Design Features” are described in the public filings:

The façade consists of several sloped planes at different angles, which ascend to a sharp needle at the top of the building. The tower top is distinguished by three distinct asymetrical peaks, of varying height and shape. The top peak has a vertex with an interior angle of 27 degrees.

The façade treatment of the building consists of non-mirrored glass and painted aluminum elements. And the interior structure of the building is expressed on the façade in an aluminum web “diagrid” pattern of nodes and spokes, which extends from the sidewalk to the top of the building, not including mechanical spaces.

The mechanical equipment at the top of the building is set behind a façade of blades, or louvres [thereby addressing the Planning Commission’s concern].

The 78-story (reduced from 85-story) skyscraper’s 629,058 square feet represent a slight reduction from the 658,000 square feet in the original design. There’s been no downsizing of the 51,950 square feet allocated for the Museum of Modern Art’s expansion, located on the second, fourth and fifth floors. The new plan allocates 480,449 square feet for residential space (floors 14-74); 96,659 square feet for a hotel (floors 8-13).

MoMA sold to Hines (scroll down) the land to be occupied by the project for $125 million. It now also owns an adjoining site that had been occupied by the American Folk Art Museum, for which MoMA recently paid $31.2 million.

When will this much delayed project finally break ground? Not until 2013 at the earliest; perhaps as late as 2015. That’s what I learned (and confirmed with a MoMA spokesperson), after reading this passage in the museum’s 2010 financial statement (P. 20):

In May 2007, the Museum [MoMA] sold approximately 162,000 square feet of development rights over undeveloped property owned in Manhattan. A gain of $98,176,000 was generated from the sale of these rights. The Museum retains ownership of the underlying land and approximately 48,000 square feet of development rights as well as below grade space, all to be utilized for gallery, storage, and mechanical facilities.

In December 2009, the Museum and the developer agreed to delay the closing of the sale of the additional air rights over undeveloped property until at least 2013, with additional extensions to 2015 [emphasis added], in consideration of which the Museum has received a deposit of the purchase price which is reflected in deferred revenue on the consolidated statements of financial position (see Note 8). [Note 8 indicates that the museum received $35-million as a deposit for the air rights; MoMA declined to reveal the total amount to be paid at the time of the delayed closing.]

Other air rights being transferred to the project include: up to 136,000 square feet from University Club; up to 275,000 square feet from St. Thomas Church; up to 31,389 square feet from the MoMA-owned property that was formerly the American Folk Art Museum.

Speaking of the sadly diminished AFAM, its public relations director, Susan Flamm, has thrown in the towel, fleeing to “pursue other interests” (including consulting for the Grolier Club). AFAM’s acting director, Linda Dunne (who assumed her post after the embattled Maria Ann Conelli stepped down), will take on the PR tasks, at least for now.

CultureGrrl is also fleeing next week—to Canada for my two-city work-ation. Blogging will be on the back-burner. (But I do have one hot-button post planned.)

While I’m gone, my still unmet Canadian Challenge (seeking reader support for two of my five nights’ hotel) remains active, as is my Donate button. Speaking of which, my warm thanks go out to CultureGrrl Donor 174 from Norman, OK.

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