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Carter's View

Hines Interests, the real estate development company based in Houston, announced today that it is planning to erect a tapering, 75-story, mixed-use tower at 53 West 53rd Street designed by Jean Nouvel.

The tower would extend through the block to 54th Street and would contain a 50,000-square-foot expansion for the Museum of Modern Art, from whom Hines acquired the site earlier this year, a 100-room, "seven-star" hotel, and 120 "highest-end residential condominiums."

The announcement indicated that the "project will likely commence pre-sales in late 2008."

Gerald D. Hines, the chairman of Hines, said that "Nouvel's exciting concept has the potential to become an international architectural design icon." Nouvel designed the residential condominium project nearing completion at 40 Mercer Street in SoHo for Hines and Andre Balazs.

The announcement stated that "Nouvel's design maximizes the site while considering the city's zoning envelope," adding that its "unique silhouette tapers as it rises to a distinctive spire" and that "its steel and glass facade reveals the diagrid structural design."

The color rendering released with the announcement indicated that the building will have a very complex facade with many diagonal braces, a design that one surfer at today likened to the "the Chicago Hancock Center after being beaten by a blacksmith, hammered and stretched to fit into its site."

It was not clear from the announcement if the project was "as-of-right," that is, a development that needs no public approvals and falls within existing zoning and building regulations, and whether is will be topped with an unusual spire. The announcement also did not indicate how many feet tall the development will be although one illustration that appeared in an article today in The New York Times by Nicholas Ouroussoff seemed to indicate that it would tower significantly higher than the Museum Tower, which is 588 feet tall and was designed by Cesar Pelli in an earlier expansion by the museum. The Museum tower is the east of the planned new building, which is just to the west of the American Museum of Folk Art. The Museum of Modern Art undertook a major expansion designed by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004.

Mr. Nouvel is the architect of the Musee des Arts Premiers on Quai Branly, the Arab World Institute, and the Cartier Foundation in Paris, all in Paris, the Commercial Centre Euralille in Lille, and the Lyon Opera House. He has also designed 100 Eleventh Avenue, a residential condominium tower now under construction in Chelsea by Alf Naman and Cape Advisors that is notable for its very faceted fenestration. Two of his most interesting designs that were not built called for a hotel projected over the East River in Brooklyn and a tall tower with a bridge to an angled low-rise building in the Meat-Packing District.

Hines built the "Lipstick" office building at 885 Third Avenue that was designed by Philip Johnson, who also designed major skyscrapers for him in many American cities. Hines is also the developer with Aby Rosen of the undulated residential condominium project known as One Jackson Square at 122 Greenwich Avenue that has been designed by William Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox.

In his article, Mr. Ouroussoff said that the "contorted" Nouvel design promises "to be the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation," adding that "Its faceted exterior, tapering to a series of crystalline peaks, suggests an atavistic preoccupation with celestial heights." Mr. Ouroussoff suggested that the small floors at the top of the planned building "should give the upper stories an increasingly precarious feel," adding that "The top-floor apartment is arranged around such a massive elevator core that its inhabitants will feel pressed up against the glass exterior walls."
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.