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News Flash: City Planning Report Decapitates Nouvel’s MoMA Monster

NY City Planning Commissioner Nathan Leventhal

You go, Nat!

It was NY City Planning Commissioner Nathan Leventhal who publicly raised the question about the elephant-in-the-skyline during last month’s hearing on the planned MoMA/Hines tower, designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

It was the simplest of queries from a sophisticated interlocutor—the former president of Lincoln Center, whose early career included a stint as the city’s Commissioner of Rent and Housing Maintenance (at which time I interviewed him for a piece in the NY Times Real Estate section):

Would this be the tallest building in the city?

The correct answer (not forthcoming at the hearing) was that, at 1,250 feet, Nouvel’s glass tower would have equaled the height (without antenna) of NYC’s tallest edifice, the Empire State Building. By assembling air rights from three nearby facilities that couldn’t use them and could profit by selling them, it would have become a colossus on a postage-stamp site.

But if all goes as expected, the City Planning Commission tomorrow will vote to lop 200 feet off Nouvel’s soaring ambitions.

At the commission’s review session today, which I attended, Edith Hsu-Chen, director of City Planning’s Manhattan office, read these excerpts from the CPC’s draft report on the MoMA/Hines project:

The Commission notes that the proposed design of the building is exemplary, and that the building—its tapered, sculpted form, unique diagrid structure and curtain wall, and overall quality—would be a strong addition to the City and its architecture.

However, the Commission believes that the applicant has not made a convincing argument that the design of the tower’s top (the uppermost 200 feet of the building) merits being in the zone of the Empire State Building’s iconic spire, making the building the second tallest building in New York City. This part of the building would have the greatest impact on the City’s skyline and the Commission notes that it appears that less attention has been paid to this portion of the building when compared to the rest of the structure.

In particular, the Commission is not satisfied with the attempts at incorporating mechanical equipment into the tower top, which results in a tower top with highly visible mechanical equipment. Therefore, as a condition of its approval and to minimize adverse effects on the character of the surrounding area, the Commission is modifying the application to reduce the height of the building to 1,050 feet.

When I know more, you’ll know more.

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