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40 Mercer Street

View from the northeast

40 Mercer Street from the northeast

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.

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

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 open vertically.

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 "upon request."

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 York.

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