Jean Nouvel's New York tower design (Image Source:
First and foremost, don’t get your hopes (or ire) up, the design above is for a 75-story tower by architect Jean Nouvel that’s slated to be built adjacent to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (Yes, in New York.)
So why are we featuring it on SocketSite? Because multiple readers sent us the article along with a note lamenting the fact that we don’t seem to get such bold designs right here in San Francisco (although perhaps there’s still hope).
Oh, and because we believe that every San Francisco developer (big and small alike) should take the following sentence from the Times article to heart: “Architecture is a form of marketing now, and [the developer] Hines made the bolder choice.”
Next to MoMA, a Tower Will Reach for the Stars [New York Times]
They Just Keep Getting Bigger, And Bigger, And Bigger… [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by ex SF-er

    I read the words too late! I saw that tower and thought, “WOW!!! they’ve shelved the boring Pelli design for the Transbay and they’re going to do a reworked SOM design instead!”
    Then I saw that it was NYC. of course.
    But there’s still hope. we’ll work the boring buildings out of our system, I’m sure the imaginative buildings are just around the corner!

  2. Posted by Tipster

    Architecture? It looks like what the design for the Transamerica pyramid would look like if the architect was drunk or forgot how many sides a pyramid has.
    This isn’t architecture, it’s a doorstop.
    OK, I actually like it, but it’s Friday.

  3. Posted by Michael

    This is the third Jean Nouvel building in NYC. Whether or not more people who come to this site would like this building more than like the Pelli Transbay building is inconsequential. There would still be in this city those who hate everything and would find something wrong with this design, e.g. the Sue Hestors and Bruce Brugmanns of the world.
    I still hold out hope that Renzo Piano’s Transbay towers will be a spectacular design.

  4. Posted by Invented

    Ironically, this building captures San Francisco’s unique qualities; light, transparency, delicateness. It’s an exquisite building & belongs here.
    Fortunately we have a new generation of SFers bringing its urban sensibilities, who doesn’t fear height, and doesn’t buy into the bad planning and indecisiveness which plagued the 1970s + 1980s here –when time stood still and the city, spent all its energy just saying no to everything.

  5. Posted by yao

    i don’t like the transamerica building. am i a weirdo?

  6. Posted by Joe

    Everytime I see a building like this I have hope that someday SF will break free from its grovers corners provinciality and start accepting that this is indeed a city.
    So much of everything we do is navel gazing.

  7. Posted by S&S

    We don’t have bold designs like this in SF (not that I particularly like this one), because the majority of the people here are antimodern/anticontemporary/antichange/antichange … anti-everything. Now, give us a 150-story Victorian, and that’d be approved and built faster than any of us could say tree hugger.

  8. Posted by kaya

    I do like this, but I think it would be too redundant here. It reminds me of the pyramid on acid or salvador dali.
    But yes, it would be nice to see less “safe” design in San Francisco.

  9. Posted by Michael

    Invented, I totally agree with you. I’ve lived in this city for 15 years, and it really does seem there’s a new generation of people who may someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, actually help us get great, tall, well-designed buildings here.

  10. Posted by Timosha

    People in San Francisco always speak of the local spirit as being resistant to “modernism,” traditional in its tastes, or just simply conservative. But why is this? Let’s be honest:
    San Francisco is full of educated and moneyed people, but at the end of day the city is just not as sophisticated as it pretends to be, particularly with respect to the arts. Traditional and conservative here are just codewords for know-nothing-else and want-to-know-nothing-else.
    Why is it that friends born and raised in SF have never heard of a hometown great like, say, Richard Diebenkorn, while in NYC there will usually be a few people within earshot who are familiar with his work? I guess that’s what happens when your cherished childhood field trip was a visit to the Exploratorium rather than a visit to the Met, Guggenheim or Whitney?
    I would rather see the Rogers go up than the Pelli. Something to stir the mind, cause debate and curiosity. I’ll take bad architecture over no architecture.

  11. Posted by Spencer

    This design is beautiful and breathtaking.
    It makes all of our buildings, even the TA pyramid, look like square blocks.

  12. Posted by Brett

    Dear San Francisco. Please stop trying to compare yourself to New York City. NYC is a magnitude of order larger than the city of San Francisco. 800,000 here versus 8 MILLION there. The whole Bay Area population could fit in NYC with room left over for Sacramento. So, there is no way that San Francisco could compete with the cultural offerings in NYC. But that doesn’t mean that what we have here isn’t any good. In fact it is great for a city of this size to be engaged in everything that is happening here. I think SF really blows away just about any city in the world of similar size.
    I say keep up the good work and stop looking over your should at NYC. Believe me, they aren’t looking over their shoulder at San Francisco.

  13. Posted by Invented

    “Let’s be honest:
    San Francisco is full of educated and moneyed people, but at the end of day the city is just not as sophisticated as it pretends to be, particularly with respect to the arts. Traditional and conservative here are just codewords for know-nothing-else and want-to-know-nothing-else.”
    Which reminds me — why do people here — always mention they’re a 3rd, 4th or 5th ‘generation San Franciscan’ — as if that’s something to wear on your sleeve. Is it code for old money? To show you’re farmer stock? Was it not until the 50’s when the east coast started moving out here — the literary, peace and gay movements fueled by westward immigrants? What was here 3 generations ago — sand dunes and agriculture in and around SF? Seems to me I wouldn’t announce the pedigree as if it’s an ivy league badge. There’s nothing wrong w/being a 4th generation almond farmer but why the endless hype?
    Who would ever say a 3rd generation New Yorker? You’d be laughed at — we’re all 3rd generation New Yorkers! (and our SF kids here are 4th gen NYers, not 2d gen SFers).
    Enuf said.

  14. Posted by sanfrantim

    Interesting post, Brett. I did not think this topic was about comparing NYC to SF, but you seem fixated on it for sure. Good luck making your decision as to which you prefer.
    I know quite a few New Yorkers who want to move to San Francisco, so I have to dispute your “they’re not looking over their shoulder at SF” statement.
    NYC is great for what it is, but THANK GOD we live here.

  15. Posted by Jamie

    Say what you want about our architecture, but New York truly smells bad … at least Manhattan sure does (and I’m talking about smells just two weekends ago – early November, not in the dead cat heat/humidity of summer).
    And just try to find a public bathroom in Manhattan …

  16. Posted by RinconHill_Res

    “I say keep up the good work and stop looking over your should at NYC. Believe me, they aren’t looking over their shoulder at San Francisco.”
    Anyone that doesn’t already intuitively know this, shouldn’t be living here anyway. You’re a sucker if you are because it isn’t expensive to live here for nothing. Beside SF has something that NYC will never have within an hour at the most driving time..
    Everything north and everything south of the SF blows away what you are offered once you cross the Hudson or the East River. NJ? Long island? Upstate NY? Are you kidding?
    If you just want do a extremely narrow isolated comparison of Manhattan and SF proper, sure there are certainly superior findings in Manhattan. But I most people live such compartmentalized lives.

  17. Posted by citicritter

    If anyone wants to see a lot more of Nouvel’s design, images are here:
    As I’ve been saying all along, SF is indeed woefully behind when it comes to architecture, particularly tall building design — yeah, compare our pathetic One Rincon Hill, or any other tall building of late in SF (like the craptastic Intercontinental “Wurlitzer” Hotel, or the sorry-ass SOMA Grand, anyone?) to this Manhattan beauty.
    And the craziest part is people in SF having the nerve to cry about “Manhattanization”, ooh be careful, we might actually get a well-designed, engaging building, oh no!

  18. Posted by Chad

    So what does it mean that the common denominator between this project and Transbay is the developer? Hines’ financial backing is a large part of why the Pelli scheme won Transbay, and I’m sure they fully expect their SF tower to perform as marketing.

  19. Posted by sf

    i always figured there was hesitance for buildings like this in san francisco because of earthquakes…?

  20. Posted by sf

    nevermind, i realize that is such a stupid questions. some of the most amazing high rises in the world are in earthquake country, and it is always the small buildings that tumble in quakes.

  21. Posted by Rich

    San Francisco architecture is a reflection of the people of San Francisco. Pretending that it is something else is foolishness.
    Unlike, Twin Peaks, the Marin Headlands, and the Pacific coast line, the collection of boring boxes that comprise the majority of the skyline didn’t just pop up. They were planned, designed and approved long before they were constructed.
    San Francisco will have the sophistication of NYC or Chicago when a larger number of its citizens have it. Till then, dream on and whine on.

  22. Posted by sfclass

    Rich- you’ve got it all wrong! San Franciscans don’t lack sophistication, not at all. It’s the vocal crybaby NIMBYs who lack every ounce of it, and it is they who shape the debate because they are the loudest and whiniest. It’s OUR turn to shape the debate and transform this city!

  23. Posted by Sashok

    sfclass – I agree: the most vocal “activists” here may actually be a minority, but they ARE most vocal, and activists! Everyone else doesn’t care and doesn’t have time to attend board or planning meetings, or even to VOTE…
    the result is not going to change any time soon: developers obviously know very well that any radical proposal for this city is doomed, and simply aren’t going to offer any.
    and so we are stuck with our crap…

  24. Posted by Rich

    Actually, I hit the nail on the head.
    I spent yesterday biking around the city on my own architectural tour. The Soviet-style boxes that dominate this city are just boring and are testimonies to the souls the boring. The vocal activists or crybaby NIMBYs are the majority. Evidence abounds. Each new box on the skyline only adds to the great body of existing evidence.
    Let’s face it California has picturesque vistas and great weather, that’s why folks live here. Snow is done right here as well. It’s an easy drive to go play in it and you don’t have to shovel it out of your way to get to work. We can also transport enough water to grow boat loads of food and allow our sisters and brothers in the south the inhabit a desert with millions of people. All very amazing, but still no cool architecture like that in Chicago or NYC.
    California (and San Francisco as well) has to be accepted for what it is. A change in the architecture will require a change of soul of the majority.

  25. Posted by Morgan

    Rich, can I try a different perspective?
    Regarding the architecture of California, I think you forget that it is Southern California that has played a very important role in architecture and modernism. Don’t paint the entire state with such a broad brush, for down there they have been doing great modern architecture for decades. Should I mention names? John Lautner, Shindler, Neutra, Albert Frey, the Frank Lloyd Wright houses of Hollywood and Pasadena, Greene and Greene, and now the new breed from Frank Gehry to Thom Mayne, and all the latest Sci-Arc crop of designers. What about EAMES!, Ellwood and the “case study” group down in L.A. in the 40’s thru 60’s? I could go on and on, but my point is that California’s architecture reflects the California lifestyle, which except for some small areas of the state, is mainly lived in single family homes.
    I agee that San Francisco got the smaller share of good design in California, but it has only recently thought of itself as a city instead of a “town”. The question is, are we really ready to encourage buildings like they have in Chicago and NYC? To cheer yourself up, go up to the top of Nob Hill and stand on the steps of Grace Cathedral and look at the city, THAT is still a wonderful urban experience, even if the new towers in the distance are all dull dark 45 story cubes.

  26. Posted by citicritter

    Its true Morgan, you can’t drag LA into this predicament: its easily on par with NY and Chicago (if not past them) when it comes to contributions to recent architectural history.
    I don’t necessarily agree that “it has only recently thought of itself as a city instead of a “town”” — because for decades SF has been referred to as “The City”, for all of Northern California. And it’s grand Beaux Arts Civic Center has displayed that aspiration for ages.
    As Rich says, it IS a problem of general lack of sophistication at large, plus, ironically, some pretentious sense of superiority as-is about the place. And yes much of the problem clearly continues to be the all-too-vocal nimby crowd with their myopic, backwards fear of ‘the new’ in the built environment. It goes all the way back to SF embracing and mimicking the Victorian, even while offering up (if not living) the hedonistic Barbary Coast lifestyle.

  27. Posted by Rich

    Thanks Morgan, but I really don’t need “cheering up”. Though the architecture here really doesn’t do anything for me, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep me happy and cheerful. I simply see San Francisco just like I do the rest of California with all of the benefits listed in my previous post. On top of that, I’ve got the air in my lungs, my health, some awesome beer close by and a soft, warm cozy bed to sleep in….life is good.
    However, when I want an urban experience, I hop a plane east. Fortunately, I get to do that a lot for work and hangout over the weekends for city fun.
    I have thought a lot about why I live here and it comes down to two reasons. I live here for weather and the hi-tech social network that the whole bay area offers–the latter is a silicon valley thing, but benefits the whole area. Even the weather here (though not as nice as socal) is relatively painless.
    In the short time that I have been here, I’ve walked and/or biked (bicycle! not one of those muffler-lacking motorcycles that is so in vogue these days) most of this 7 square mile city/county. There are other views that I prefer other than the one from Grace Cathedral, but I sincerely do appreciate the suggestion. And, I just try to ignore the dull 45 story cubes, by looking north, west and south. 🙂
    At this point in history, we all know that the Nouvel building pictured at the top of this post has a snowball’s chance in hell of being built here any time soon. Perhaps (and hopefully) in the future, but I don’t see it in my life time (I’m 38). Since, we’re looking into the future and talking possibilities…what if San Jose or Oakland woke up and started kicking San Francisco’s ass with cool architecture? Frankly, I don’t see that happening either, but I think it would be fun to watch, if it did.

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