One of the projects we evaluated for Orient-Express last year was the redevelopment of the legendary ’21′ Club. MOMA is immediately north of the site, across West 53rd Street, and Hines Interests had purchased the site next door to develop a mixed-use “seven star” hotel and residential condo tower in addition to expanding the MOMA exhibition spaces. Representing perhaps the pinnacle of the ‘star-chitect’ fever gripping New York at the time, architect Jean Nouvel proposed one of the most vertiginous, jaw-dropping designs I’ve come across:

The exterior bracing may invite comparison to the John Hancock Center in Chicago, but that’s where the similarity ends.  While the John Hancock Center is a 100 story tower of 1.2 Million plus square feet of imposing bulk, 53 West 53rd is to be a slender 75 story tower with a tiny foot print (think size zero) that will make it exceedingly difficult and costly to build.  A complete set of renderings can be viewed at and the project website it located at if you want to sign up for the developer’s updates.  The design is currently making the rounds of the New York City Planning Commission.

Making the rounds of the design-sphere today is an “alternate” design for this tower proposed by John Beckmann’s architecture firm Axis Mundi.  The “Vertical Neighborhood” is Beckmann’s call for “a more diverse, complex, heterogeneous, and environmentally-minded city [that] need no longer be represented by one-note architecture that makes a singular visual image and little else.”

While certainly diverse and heterogeneous, it elevates the favela to new heights.

I look forward to the day when green design stops being synonymous with “ugly”.

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1 Response » to “The Emperor’s Green Clothes”

  1. Interestingly, look at something as simple as the area of perimeter wall in this scheme compared to a more conventional solution – it is probably 25% greater, with all the attendant cost, energy consumption, and building envelope issues. So is this really green?

    I think it is interesting to revisit the idea of the tower form into more bite sized chunks, but didn’t Moshe Safdie do that in 1967? What is old is new again (with green vines on the walls).

    Pencil my vote in for the Nouvel scheme!

    Thx for the diversion

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