In Praise of New NYC Skyscrapers

Back in November, the NYT’s Nicolai Ouroussoff gave a rave review to Jean Nouvel’s proposed new midtown skyscraper, destined for a narrow lot next to the Museum of Modern Art.

It "promises to be the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation," he gushed, and certainly the renderings which have been made public do look spectacular.

Today, however, Bloomberg’s James Russell is much more curmudgeonly.

Thank New York zoning laws for this chic behemoth, which could cast some of Midtown’s most prized and densely built blocks into darkness. Someday such abuse may become illegal.

I have to admit that I fail to understand Russell’s beef. He’s worried about shadows on MoMA’s sculpture garden? MoMA itself had veto power over the building, and the sculpture garden has never exactly been full of sunlight at the best of times, seeing as how it’s blocked to the south by MoMA itself.

Russell also seems concerned about the tower’s height, saying that "will define a whole new scale in the neighborhood," although he does concede that "those skinny high floors won’t block many views or much light".

I’m with Ouroussoff on this one. New York is a city of skyscrapers, and if the zoning laws wanted to outlaw tall buildings like this one, they would simply put a height cap on the lot in question. The fact that they didn’t means that a skyscraper is hardly an abuse of those laws – in fact, quite the opposite.

Similarly, the transfer of development rights which Russell seems so upset about – where landmark buildings sell their air rights to a developer who can make good use of them – is a long-established part of New York construction economics: it’s not some obscure loophole which the developer of this building is abusing.

In any case, the air rights aren’t the problem. Russell’s main issue is with the building’s "thick, looming, lower floors" – a description at odds not only with the renderings but also with common sense, given the narrowness of the lot. And those floors could easily have been built without any transfer of development rights.

I’m very glad that developers are still thinking tall in New York – a city which still very much defines itself by its iconic skyline. And if developers are thinking tall and beautiful, as in this case, so much the better.

(HT: Bair)

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