Jean Nouvel Discusses Inspiration for 53W53, Refuses to Disclose Favorite Color

An interior rendering of 53W53.

An interior rendering of 53W53.

Conceived before the last recession, the Jean Nouvel-designed 53W53, née Tower Verre, has been perhaps the most highly anticipated of the super-tall skyscrapers and the one that seemed least likely to rise. But last fall, the tower, which is being developed by Hines, Goldman Sachs and the Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group, closed on a massive $860 million construction loan, acquired the last necessary air rights and promptly began excavation.

What it has lacked in the way of a head start on the Midtown skyscraper craze, it has made up for in enthusiasm, as well as in the imprimatur of MoMA, which will occupy three of the ultra luxury condo’s lower floors. MoMA may be seen as the real estate-crazed behemoth of the art world, but its expansionist tendencies are frankly sedate by real estate standards. And so last night the museum hosted an homage to Mr. Nouvel and his tower design, with a Q&A between the architect and filmmaker Matthew Tyrnauer, who is making a documentary about him, followed by a reception in the sculpture garden. In the audience we spotted both Martha Stewart and superbroker Dolly Lenz—a good cross-section of the many power blondes and assorted machers in attendance.

During the talk, Mr. Nouvel, dressed in a black suit, with a black shirt, a black tie (and, naturally, black shoes and socks) said that when he first saw the size of the site on which he was to build he was “shocked by the size… it is very, very small.”

He decided, then, he said, that probably structural supports would go outside, rather than be hidden within, and that the views would, of course, be something to maximize.

“I researched air rights—how to go as high as possible—and found this system with oblique lines, like a snake, that goes up to a very sharp point,” Mr. Nouvel explained of designing the asymmetrical, 1,050-foot-high tower.

“I did not want to have a traditional facade. To have the glass directly in the structure you feel really to be in the sky,” he continued.

When Mr. Tyrnauer asked how he approached designing a vertical structure, as opposed to a horizontal one, Mr. Nouvel responded that it has to be “very singular” because it is visible from afar and that one needs to “create roots. The structure should go down into the basement and not stop at the ground.”

After about a half hour of discussing more weighty architectural matters, Mr. Tyrnauer closed with a softball: “What’s your favorite color?”

“I have no favorite color,” Mr. Nouvel responded.

“He was supposed to say black,” Mr. Tyrnauer countered.

Filing out to the reception where appetizers of foie gras, tuna tartare with salmon pancakes topped with caviar awaited them, two developers discussed the Q&A.

“What’d you think?” asked the first man.

“Huh,” said the second man.

“Yeah,” said the first.