Groundbreaking Imminent: MoMA’s Torre Verre

Torre VerreTorre Verre - Image from Atelier Jean Nouvel via the WSJ

After a six year wait, the Torre Verre is finally moving forward; per The Wall Street Journal, MoMA’s spectacular 1,050′ residential addition has received backing from Singapore’s Kwee family. While The Journal did not report on ground-breaking, the Arts Journal did – and it seems that construction on Nouvel’s signature masterpiece, located at 53 West 53rd Street, will begin in early 2014.

The Torre Verre saga is familiar to many in the development community, and presents a foil against the cavalcade of supertalls rising along 57th Street. By enduring ULURP – outlined previously on YIMBY – the top 200 feet were lobbed off the tower, on the basis of aesthetics. Whether the decision was correct or not is irrelevant – it has had major unintended consequences, visible in the current boom. The airspace Ms. Burden deemed ‘rarified’ will become saturated within the next five years, as several Midtown towers – 217 West 57th, 111 West 57th, and 432 Park Avenue, among others – surpass both the Empire State Building, and the original iteration of the Torre Verre.

Torre Verre

Torre Verre – Image from Atelier Jean Nouvel via the WSJ

What this harkens back to is the ULURP process, and the subtle intricacies of development that invite its application. Jean Nouvel designed a masterpiece, evident in the original proposal and its current version. MoMA attempted to navigate ULURP to build the 1,250′ tower precisely because it was so beautiful; they could have easily built an as-of-right box. The height-chop has had a minor effect on Torre Verre’s appearance, but its implications have become widely apparent in the boom on 57th Street.

Rather than dealing with the precarious and unpredictable process of ULURP, developers have become intent on avoiding it altogether. This results in buildings like 432 Park Avenue and 217 West 57th Street, which are certainly enormous, but lack the risk-taking aesthetics of a masterpiece like the Torre Verre.

Ironically, before ground has even been broken, the Torre Verre already has a legacy – and it is obvious, looking at the supertalls currently under construction or about to begin in the surrounding neighborhood. ULURP has killed the innovation and imagination it should serve to promote, and on an island where a redesign can cost millions of dollars, thinking outside the box – i.e., creativity – is becoming taboo.

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