By Carter B. Horsley
This handsome, modern, 13-story
glass tower was completed in 2006.
It has an excellent SoHo location,
occupying the entire north blockfront on Grand Street between
Mercer Street and Broadway.
It is a project of André Balazs, the owner of the Mercer
Hotel who was also involved in the condo development known as
One Kenmare Square not too far away.
The architect for this development is Jean Nouvel, the well-known
French architect who designed the Cartier Foundation building
and the Lyon Opera House, and SLCE Architects.
This is Nouvel's first project
to be completed in New York. He also designed a cantilevered low-rise
hotel in Brooklyn jutting into the East River just south of the
Williamsburg Bridge and a very dramatic multi-building complex
in Chelsea along the High Line, but those projects did not advance
beyond the planning stage.
After this project, Mr. Nouvel went on to design two spectacular
new projects in Manhattan, 100 Eleventh Avenue, where he has designed
a curved facade facing south and west with different sized and
angled windows, and a mixed-use tower to the east of the Museum
of Modern Art that will be one of the tallest buildings in midtown
and be notable for its prominent, asymmetrical diagonal bracing.
The Mercer Street development, a project of Hines, Whitehall Group
and EMJ Management, has a five-story base topped by 8 tower floors
and it contains 41 condo apartments, retail spaces and a spa.
The building is distinguished by its very large windows that slid
The renderings for this
project initially indicated that its glass facades would have
quite bright blue and red components, but upon completion the
overall palette was more battleship gray.
At the suggestion of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission,
the building was designed to have the windows and floors of the
base relate closely to the scale of neighboring cast-iron buildings.
The site was at one time occupied by a department store and then
a parking lot.
The free-standing building has a 24-hour concierge, a garage with
valet parking, a private landscaped garden, private storage, event
spaces for exclusive use by residents, continental breakfast delivery
and a fitness center with a 50-foot lap pool. Apartments have
12-foot-ceilings. One- to three-bedroom apartments were initially
priced between about $2 million and almost $6 million. Two of
the penthouse units have private pools and had prices available
The project was first designed in 2000 as a hotel.
When the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously
approved plans in 2001 for a hotel on this site designed by Nouvel,
Herbert Muschamp, then the architecture critic of The New York
Times gushed that "This is the most significant architectural
initiative we've seen from city government since - well, since
the landmarks law was passed in 1965."
In their great book, "New
York 2000, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Bicentennial
and The Millennium," Robert A. M. Stern, David Fishman and
Jacob Tilove provided the following commentary about this development:
"While not stylistically contextual, Nouvel's design, with
applied steel grids and glass fins used to suggest depth in a
glass-curtailed building, was sympathetic to the framelike serial
repetition of SoHo's cast-iron buildings. Waxing rapturously and
somewhat silly, Muschamp wrote that 'it would be obtuse to analyze
the design in strictly formal or functional terms. This hotel
is made for 'Moody's Mood for Love' as performed by King Pleasure,
on a rainy weekday afternoon, downtown, in a room surrounded by
low-rise buildings. Think Edward Hopper crossed with Pedro Aldomovar.
Not least, this design is about sex. That is its major departure
from the glass office towers of mid-20th-century in New York.'
Muschamp attempted to evaluate Nouvel's design in cinematic terms,
comparing the design for the proposed building's north wall, a
glass wall punctuated by transparent rectangles with blurred images,
to 'film sprockets or movie stills from an emphatically film noir
genre' before classifying Nouvel's design as a 'supreme example
of what we mean when we talk about an architecture of ideas.'
The slump in hotel business after September 11, 2001, forced Balazs
to shift gears, changing the building's program to that of an
apartment house, adding two stories to its height and, in 2003,
beginning the lengthy process of seeking a zoning revision that
would allow residential development on the site."
As completed, the building
is an awkward but strong intrusion into the low-rise, cast-iron
fabric of SoHo. It is macho, if not sexy, but to its credit it
is not fashionista. It has a distinct, almost obstreperous personality
that is certainly not out of place in such a chaotic city as New