Burdened! Jean Novel Tower Expected to Feel Planning Commish’s 200-Foot Chomp

Amanda Burden apparently doesn’t want to get Ratnered by MoMA.

Burned by a post-approval architect swap at Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project—the Brooklyn developer dropped Frank Gehry and his iconic basketball arena earlier this year—the chairwoman of the City Planning Commission is going to new lengths to see that she’s not the victim of a future bait-and-switch.

The first to experience this new approach are MoMA and Texas developer Hines Interests, which are planning a slender, pointy, 1,250-foot skyscraper adjacent to the West 53rd Street museum. Designed by Jean Nouvel, the tall, bald, soft-speaking French architect who last year received architecture’s Pritzker Prize, the much-praised tower would soar above midtown with hotel rooms and ridiculously pricey apartments filling its Empire State Building–like height.

But the design needs the assent of Ms. Burden’s Planning Commission. And, on Sept. 9, it’s slated to take some major actions on the building. Most notably: Ms. Burden and her colleagues are expected to take a gigantic 200-foot bite off the height of Mr. Nouvel’s baby, and, according to an executive involved with discussions, layer on a set of regulations aimed at handcuffing the developer to its current design.

Generally, developers receive approvals for a building’s basics—density, height and massing—but they are typically not held to their specific designs or architecture. In the case of Mr. Ratner, after he went before Ms. Burden for her assent in 2006, he had only to follow basic “design guidelines” that called for items such as some glass walls along the street. (This was a state process in which Ms. Burden had a more peripheral role.) Thus, when he dropped Mr. Gehry earlier this year, Mr. Ratner was free to dramatically change the Nets basketball arena to a cheaper, more functional design.

The swap was said to have incensed Ms. Burden, who is known to approach many projects that come before her with a heavy, detail-focused hand.

Indeed, with regard to the MoMA tower, she said at a July hearing that the issue of potential design change was “bedeviling” her.

“You have an extraordinarily talented architect and a very dynamic and, for me personally, a thrilling design,” she said, according to a transcript. “However, what is to assure me and the commissioners and the city that this glorious design isn’t going to turn into the as-of-right massing, which would be a calamity?”

As for the 200-foot chop, it seems Ms. Burden and her staff were less than thrilled about the looks of the air conditioning and other mechanicals atop the tower in the current design. Per a City Planning statement issued Sept. 8, the top, with what would be the city’s highest occupied floors, was marked by “highly visible mechanical equipment”—apparently enough to cost the developer the super-tall crown.


Burdened! Jean Novel Tower Expected to Feel Planning Commish’s 200-Foot Chomp