(Photo: Albert Watson; Rendering courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel)

Just off Sixth Avenue, squeezed in next to the Museum of Modern Art, is a sliver of fallow ground just big enough to accommodate a convenience store or a few brownstones—or, come to think of it, a tower as tall as the Empire State Building. Skyscrapers have gotten skinnier, and three years ago, the architect Jean Nouvel designed an exhilarating mirage for this site, a slender, 1,250-foot ballerina of a building, corseted in steel beams and perpetually en pointe. The project—Tower Verre, he calls it—seemed like too flamboyant a fantasy for a cautious metropolis, and indeed the City Council approved only a stunted version, which demands a new design.

“We have to restudy it, without starting from zero,” Nouvel says. “I don’t think we have to revisit the essentials of the structure.” It may still be a twisting, sloping needle, enfolding new MoMA galleries in its base and rising to apartments with great glass walls slashed by tilting columns. Only now it can reach no higher than 1,050 feet, a toddler’s height taller than the Chrysler Building and 200 feet shorter than the Empire State. About this, Nouvel is by turns philosophical and resentful. “The past is the past,” he says with a shrug. A few minutes later comes the zinger: “What is surprising is that Manhattan should be afraid of verticality.”


Justin Davidson
New York Magazine