Midtown Manhattan
Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Status: Revised design under review

53 West 53rd
Image courtesy Hines


In early 2007, Hines purchased an empty lot on West 53rd Street from the Museum of Modern Art for $125 million. Soon after, the mega-developer unveiled its design for the 17,000-square-foot site: a slender, 75-story steel-framed skyscraper (pictured above) by French architect Jean Nouvel.

Plans for 53 West 53rd, more commonly known as Tower Verre or the MoMA Tower, included 120 condominiums, a 100-room hotel, a restaurant, and 50,000 square feet of gallery space for MoMA. Most notably, the building was slated to rise 1,250 feet, which would have made it taller than the 1,047-foot-tall Chrysler Building.

The height of the building in the middle of a Midtown Manhattan block sparked an uproar among some neighbors and certain city officials. During a September 2009 meeting, the planning commission expressed aesthetic concerns about exposed mechanical equipment in the upper portion of the tower and demanded a 200-foot height reduction. “They were asking special permission to penetrate an iconic zone of the skyline, and they hadn’t finished the design. I was stunned,” Amanda Burden, the city planning commissioner, told the New York Observer in 2009. Nouvel likened the cut to facing the guillotine.

The project receded from the headlines. Then, this past May, Hines submitted new schematic drawings to the city that comply with the lower height.

Meanwhile, another property on 53rd Street has been in the news. This past spring, the American Folk Art Museum sold its iconic home, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and completed in 2001, to MoMA. Some fear the 30,000-square-foot building, sandwiched between MoMA and the Hines lot, will be demolished to make more room for the Nouvel tower. However, the city would have to approve any major changes to the Folk Art property because city bonds helped build it.

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