A Modern Pyramid Rises Next to MoMA
An unusual building design its creators refer to as ‘the diagrid’ is coming into view on West 53rd Street
By Emily Nonko Nov. 9, 2016 6:42 p.m. ET
An unusual building design its creators refer to as “the diagrid” is coming into view on West 53rd Street.
A rendering of Jean Nouvel’s 1,050-foot skyscraper next door to the Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Hayes Davidson
The slender skyscraper is set to rise 1,050 feet next door to the Museum of Modern Art and will have both luxury condominium apartments and gallery space for the museum.
When complete, the soaring curtain wall will appear as a complex grid of glass and metal, with interlocking triangular patterns reflecting the building’s underlying structure.
Jean Nouvel, the project architect, said the structure needed to respond to the many challenges of constructing a pyramid-shaped building that is so narrow and so tall.
The tower has been no stranger to challenges since it was first proposed in 2007 by the international real estate firm Hines. With development partners Pontiac Land Group and Goldman Sachs, Hines needed to secure air rights from the Museum of Modern Art, St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the University Club of New York to build such a tall structure, according to David Penick, a managing director at Hines.
The project hit a snag in 2009. The New York City Planning Commission approved Mr. Nouvel’s original design for a 1,250-foot building, but under the condition that it be 200 feet shorter.
“For a building of this shape, you couldn’t take off 200 feet of the pyramid easily,” said Bertram Beissel Von Gymnich, director of Ateliers Jean Nouvel, the architectural firm. “You start losing the proportion.”
A typical building is constructed with columns, beams and walls to “carry the weight of the building down to the ground,” said Silvian Marcus, director of building structures at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project engineers.
The West 53rd Street tower take a different approach.
It is supported primarily by the external diagrid, which is composed of more than 1,000 inclined concrete beams reinforced by steel “nodes” where the columns intersect. About 60 nodes are sprinkled through the diagrid, Mr. Marcus said.
With the nodes holding the columns together, the exterior skeleton is strong enough so that no vertical columns are required to hold up the building, Mr. Marcus said. The skeleton also stabilizes the building against wind and earthquakes, a major consideration for super-tall skyscrapers.
Meanwhile, on the inside, the lack of interior columns create open, uninterrupted apartments and gallery space for MoMA.
The building also takes the shape of the sloping, tapering pyramid envisioned by Mr. Nouvel. “It is not like the Egyptian pyramid, which is very wide,” Mr. Marcus said. “This one is very elongated, but it’s still a pyramid.”
Ateliers Jean Nouvel designed the pyramid in response to zoning requirements for greater setbacks as the tower got taller. The building’s shape isn’t symmetrical. Its four sides slope at various angles, some steep, some shallow.
“That’s what gives the building this interesting shape,” said Mr. Beissel Von Gymnich. “If [each side] went up at the same angle, you’d have a much more massive facade and it would be less sculptural as an expression.”
In all, 5,747 panels of triple-paned glass, specially made Plattling, Germany, will be installed on the facade.
“Each piece is customized and meant to go in an exact spot of the building,” said Mr. Penick. Once installed, according to Mr. Penick, the glass will have the same acoustic, thermal and energy-efficiency qualities of a solid wall.
The apartments range from $3.15 million for a one-bedroom apartment to $50.75 million for a 6,954-square-foot, four-bedroom unit.
“Every apartment will have one or two of the diagrid elements,” Mr. Penick said.
Due to the shape of the building, some apartments will also boast sloping walls of glass. And the narrowness of the tower means that almost every room of each apartment will have views from the triangular and rectangular panels of glass.
Said Mr. Penick: “We want there to be no question that you’re in Jean Nouvel’s New York City skyscraper.”