MoMeh: Nouvel’s New Museum Tower Looks Very Familiar [Pics]

Seen from the southwest, the relationship to MoMA and the other buildings on the block is clear.

When Amanda Burden and the City Planning Commission cut Jean Nouvel’s Torre Verre down to size, the architectural cogniscenti were dismayed. Hines, the project’s developer, had sworn the project would be financially infeasible 200 feet shorter. At only 1,050 feet, it would no longer rival the Empire State Building on the skyline but instead share a midtown profile with the likes of the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center and the MetLife Building. Still, even in a downturn brought on by bombastic overbuilding, real estate has a way of persevering in New York. As The Observer revealed two weeks ago, Hines is currently pursuing a new set of plans for the oft-called MoMA Tower. And here they are.

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Hines declined to release new plans, and initially suggested there were none. Through a public information request, The Observer has obtained copies of architectural drawings from the City Planning Commission. While they may not be as sexy as the kind of full-color renderings architects usually prepare to wow the media , they shed plenty of light on the new shape of the project.

Having lost 200 feet in height cost Hines almost 30,000-square-feet of new development in the tower. Instead of rising to 85 stories, all but the top four of which were occupiable, there are now 78 stories, with four stories on top still reserved for mechanical systems, such as elevators and HVAC. The total square footage is roughly 629,000, or about half as much as the bulkier Chrysler Building.

This shrinkage has not appeared to cost Hines much, after all. In approving the project, the City Council required the developer to reduce the number of hotel rooms, a matter that had concerned the neighbors because it can mean lots of transient visitors—not that the Warwick Hotel isn’t across the street, or a huge Hilton on Sixth Avenue. Instead of 147,000 square feet of hotel space, with 167 rooms on the eighth through 17th floor, there is now 96,000 square feet on the eighth through 13th floor—the plans did not detail the number of rooms, but the City Council approval stipulated no more than 100 rooms.

There has actually been a net gain in residential space, to 480,000 square feet, up from 458,000. Instead of spanning the 19th floor through 81st floor, the apartments will be on the 14th floor through the 74th floor. The plans did not state how many units there will be, but some examples can be seen in the plans. Three apartments on the 23rd floor measure 1,847 square feet, 2,263 feet and 2,296 feet, compared to one 5,669-square-foot apartment on the 59th floor. The square-footage of the top most floor, which conceivably would be combined with units below to create a larger duplex or triplex, measures 3,204 square feet.

Space for MoMA in the tower will remain constant at roughly 52,000 square feet, and the plans also call for a restaurant located in the lobby and basement of the building.

As for the appearance of the building, compared to earlier drawings and renderings, it does look a little bit squatter, but not by much, and the articulation of the tower has changed slightly. Viewed from Brooklyn, across the East River, it would not be invisible, appearing somewhere in the lee between One Bryant Park and the old CitiCorp Center. Still, it will not tower over these buildings, either.

Hines declined to comment on the new details for the tower, but it describes the changes thusly in its new application:

The facade consists of several sloped planes at different angles, which ascend to a sharp needles 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 facade treatment of the building consists of non-mirrored glass and painted aluminum elements. And the interior structure of the building is expressed on the facade 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 facade of blades, or louvres.”

That last point is of particular note because it was the under-designed nature of the tower’s top that led Ms. Burden to have it shortened.

As before, the redesigned tower is producing a mix of opinions, directed as much at Ms. Burden as at Mr. Nouvel.

Architecture critic and editor Jayne Merkel, when presented with the new plans, felt an appropriate response had been made by the developer. “Most people will see it from below, where it will still look quite tall, somewhat faceted, and thin,” she wrote in an email. “It will not appear to be quite as pencil thin on the horizon as the first scheme would have, but I am not at all sure that that is a problem either. It won’t be lonely in Midtown Manhattan, and I don’t think it is so brilliant that the original height was justified. I suspect that if the revised, shortened tower had been submitted originally, its champions would have liked it just fine.”

Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum downtown, believes the decision by the city to lower the tower was an unfortunate one. “Manhattan has two big defining characteristics, its vibrant streets and its competitive skyline,” she said. “We’ve done a great job in the past decade with protecting and improving the quality of experience of the ‘sidewalks of New York,’  but I think it’s a shame that the skyline seems to be losing its ambition and diversity.”

For a look at a truly tall building, consider the Supertall exhibition currently on view at the museum.

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