rendering from the NY Times
HINES + NOUVEL = MORE MOMA
Will Nouvel's new 54th Street tower tower over Cesar Pelli's 1985 Museum Tower behind it on West 53rd?
DESIGN | NYC 06 19 07
After a fierce and very hush-hush competition among five world-leading
architects, France's Jean Nouvel has been chosen to design a new 60-plus story tower
in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
To rise next to – and be joined with - the
Museum of Modern Art's sleek, serene and recently expanded home on West 54th Street, the
new building will contain 75,000 square feet of additional exhibition space for the museum.
Sources say it will also contain speculative office space and – bien sur –
The developer is Houston-based Hines Interests in partnership with Whitehall Street, the
Goldman Sachs group, which earlier this year won the right to acquire and develop the 17,000
-square-foot, block-through parcel. It stands immediately west of MoMA and was
previously occupied by the historic City Athletic Club on West 54th Street; the
club closed in 2002 and was acquired by the museum out of bankruptcy.
MoMA's press office referred calls to Hines, where a spokeswoman said that it was "too early"
to say anything. But sources familiar with the design competition and the project confirmed
the selection of Nouvel. Whitehall also declined to comment.
One challenge in going public with the selection may be the fast-changing world of finance.
Earlier this year the developers were seeking more than $125 million in debt financing for the
project, a figure that sources say could rise by an additional $100-plus million, depending on
potential zoning variances for the site. But at the time, even though Manhattan's high-end
condo market had begun to rebound from a stall in the last half of 2006, at least one lender
balked at the borrowers' willingness to pay more than $750 a buildable, or FAR, square foot
for the site.
Another issue that may be delaying an announcement: whether the new
MoMA galleries – which will not have their own entrance but will simply be extensions of the
existing galleries, will be designed by Nouvel or by the Yoshio Taniguchi, the Japanese
architect who designed MoMA's renovation and expansion, which opened in 2005. Sources
say that it's most likely that it will be Taniguchi who designs the new exhibit halls, which will
occupy the first six floors of the building.
There is also the question of the direct involvement of Nouvel himself; the architect has been
known to be less than conspicuous at some of his projects, and no doubt Hines wants to be
sure that it gets Nouvel when it hires Nouvel.
MoMA has been pressed to add new space ever since the renovation opened, following
complaints from many quarters that the new galleries were lacking in grace and space and
had lost some important qualities following the museum's reopening.
The new building is the 62-year-old Nouvel's third, largest and most central Manhattan
commission. His first New York building, 40 Mercer Street in SoHo, which was also developed
by Hines and Whitehal, along with developer Andre Balasz, is nearly complete. A second, 20-
story building is in development by Alf Naman and Cape Advisors at Eleventh Avenue and 19th
Street, across from Frank O. Gehry's (and Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg's)
luminescent InterActive Center, opened earlier this year.
Nouvel has been selected over submissions by Diller Scofidio + Renfro;
Morphosis; Reiser and Umamoto; and Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. Any one of these
architects would doubtless have added something striking to the city's skyline, which is
quickly developing nodes of exciting new residential architecture.
Philip Johnson's Urban Glass House and a small building by Winka Dubbeldam; Chelsea has the
burgeoning, adventurous High Line corridor anchored by the IAC; and Midtown has 53rd and
54th Streets, where more commercial offerings include Norman Foster's anticipated Shangri-
La Hotel and condos for RFR Holdings just a few blocks east of MoMA on 53rd Street. And
there is of course Cesar Pelli's original Museum Tower, partly behind and even adjacent to the
new tower site, on West 53rd Street.
Still, the path from a star architect's selection to a built project will be a tricky one for Hines
and for MoMA and its brand new chair, Jerry Speyer. There are complex air rights questions
including transfers from historic properties nearby; one package has already been assembled
by MoMA and is being transferred to Hines along with the site. However, further air rights are
yet to be nailed down and delivered, and the ability to do so will certainly affect the outcome
of the deal, its size, and its price.
Then, of course, there is the market, which Hines can only hope will show the same durability
and value as MoMA's core collection of modern masters.
Nouvel's 40 Mercer condo project in SoHo will open later this year.
Nouvel has also designed a 20-story condo at Eleventh Ave. and 19th Street, across from
Fank Gehry's InterActive Center.
The new building will rise just to the west of the museum's West 54th St. entrance, which is
The renovated and expanded Museum of Modern Art will get 75,000 square feet of new