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Only Two More Hurdles for the MoMA Monster: City Council and the Economy

NY Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, would-be slayer of the MoMA Monster

At its review session Monday, New York’s City Planning Commission gave its go-ahead for Jean Nouvel‘s MoMA/Hines tower, as modified by the City Council’s Land Use Committee. The project still needs to be approved by the full City Council, which may well happen at its Oct. 28 meeting.

The full Council almost never goes against the decision of its Land Use Committee, which on Oct. 8 approved a somewhat shortened version of the proposed tower (1,025 feet high, instead of 1,250 feet). This means that the strong, vocal protests of the neighbors, the neighbors’ City Councilman (Daniel Garodnick), the Community Board, and both the State Senator and State Assemblyman (Liz Krueger and Richard Gottfried, respectively) who represent the Manhattan district of the MoMA/Hines site are likely to be unavailing.

The bottom line is that this building—now reduced to the height of the Chrysler Building instead of the Empire State Building—is still way too tall for the small footprint of its midblock site. As Assemblyman Gottfried declared in a statement submitted to the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises:

Unlike other skyscrapers, the MoMA/Hines site is not on a wide avenue or a wide crosstown street; it is mid-block on a narrow mixed-use side street with its back on a residential street [W. 54th St.].

No other New York art museums seem to feel compelled to accompany their expansions with tall commercial structures that are out of character with their immediate surroundings, not to mention with the proper pursuits of nonprofit cultural institutions. If the MoMA Monster gets built, the Museum of Modern Art (whose current chairman is real estate mega-developer Jerry Speyer) will have violated the lowrise character of its midtown side street three times—the Cesar Pelli-designed Museum Tower luxury apartment building; the Yoshio Taniguchi-designed office building; and now, Jean Nouvel‘s Tower Verre.

These may have been clever financial deals, but MoMA’s erections notwithstanding, the commercial real estate business is not a compatible fit with the mission of museums. As David Penick, managing partner for developer Hines on this project, previously told me, the Nouvel tower won’t begin construction until financial conditions in the real estate industry improve. This means that MoMA’s expansion, dependent upon Hines’ construction, could be stalled for a long time.

In the meantime, maybe the museum can use that empty lot (which it has sold to Hines for $125 million) for a few more innovative architecture exhibitions, like this one:


MoMA’s 2008 Home Delivery exhibition, on the site of the proposed Nouvel tower

an ArtsJournal blog