A tower designed in 2006 by French Pritzker Prize laureate Jean Nouvel is joining the high-flyer ranks of the New York City skyline. Dubbed 53 W 53 for its location next to the Museum of Modern Art, the 82-story, 1,050-foot-tall glass-and-steel tower tapers skyward, culminating in three staggered crowns, its irregular, crisscrossing structural system expressed on the facade. The resulting silhouette pays homage to the classic era of Manhattan skyscrapers. Three of the building’s lower floors (two, four, and five) have been designated as MoMA exhibition space. The 140 exclusive condos went on sale in mid-May sporting prices from $3–70 million. Sweeping city-center views are one of many selling points. Condos from the 48th floor up overlook Central Park.
While not owned by MoMA, the tower fits within the museum’s ongoing expansion plan, occurring parallel to a much-disputed demolition of the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) next door. The AFAM has been replaced with a glass-fronted building that will link MoMA with the new residences. Construction of the tower stagnated for several years on account of the financial crisis but resumed on-site in late 2014, with an estimated 2018 completion date.
Nouvel’s initial design for the tower featured a roof culminating in three asymmetrical peaks, but in 2009 the NYC Planning Commission cut 200 feet off the top, alleging non-compliance with aesthetic standards for a building tall enough to outreach the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, a fact much less unnerving today in light of the recent onslaught of supertall residential buildings in Manhattan. While the jagged peaks remain, the building lost seven stories, 250,000 square feet of space, and its superlative scale. Real estate developer Hines, which bought the site from MoMA for $125 million, debuted new plans in 2011, featuring fewer hotel rooms and the relocation of residential units down to floors 14 through 74—a move which yielded a net gain in residential space of 22,000 square feet.
The building’s design features a tapered profile that has presented obstacles in the form of tilted windows and slanting columns, which New York-based interior designer Thierry Despont sought to surmount. To facilitate the design work, Hines created a costly, full-scale mock-up of a 32nd-floor residential unit in a warehouse in Sunset Park for Despont and his team to test-drive ideas.
Unable to fit normal blinds, the inoperable windows in each unit are equipped with automatic window shades fitted with guide wires and calibrated to remove gaps at the base of angled windows, a technique borrowed from high-end yachts. Other luxury flourishes include concealed ceiling light sources that create a “halo” effect, 11-foot-high ceilings, and bronze-framed entrances in every unit, as well as bottom-lit soaking tubs in the master bathrooms. Despont will also design a stately oak, marble, and bronze lobby inspired by Nouvel’s design. The luxury amenities match the lofty price tag: The 12th floor will boast a fitness facility featuring a 65-foot lap pool, squash court, gym, and golf simulator, while floors 14 through 16 contain studio apartments for residents to buy for their personal-service staff.