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The Next Dakota

French starchitect Jean Nouvel’s 40 Mercer reimagines the quintessential New York apartment house downtown, with river views.

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Left, Jean Nouvel in one of 40 Mercer's apartments, many of which have either red or blue glass accent windows. Right, looking up at the mammoth blue-glass-louvered brise-soleil at the top of the building's Broadway façade, a reimagined cornice that refers to the neighboring nineteenth-century rooflines.  

Breaking ground is all well and good, but it can also be argued that the best architects are those who give into that most human urge: to reproduce.

That thought is crystallized in famed French architect Jean Nouvel’s gleaming new Soho apartment house, 40 Mercer, a vision in red, blue, steel, and wood. Quieter, cleverer, and more lavish than Richard Meier’s Perry Street towers, 40 Mercer pays homage not only to its neighboring nineteenth-century cast-iron buildings (and their fifteenth-century Florentine forebears) but to a host of twentieth-century greats: Mondrian, Barragan, Mies van der Rohe. And yet it is utterly seductive as a unique and intriguing work of architecture.

There are a thousand little points of reference. The bracketed cornice on the east façade and the boxy, planar Palladian windows on the rear are a reference to nearby Broadway façades. Inside, the wood-and-stainless-steel kitchens nod to Eames, and the sleek, multiple-veneered and back-painted glass-tile bathrooms recall Parisian Art Deco luxury. Those touches might be lost on some, although not on Todd Eberle, one of today’s best-known architectural photographers and a contributor at Vanity Fair. For him, 40 Mercer was love at first sight. He and longtime boyfriend Richard Pandiscio were among the first people to move into the building late last month; these photos document the move.

“I love how Nouvel references the history of Soho and how seriously he took the responsibility of putting a building in that historic area,” said Eberle, who is more used to photographing starchitect buildings that spring up like magic mushrooms, irrespective of place. “This isn’t an arrogant, arriviste building,” he said. “There’s a soul in this building, and that comes from Nouvel’s dialogue with the history around it.”

Of course, one might expect Eberle to be charitably inclined to 40 Mercer, given that Pandiscio—the marketing mind behind the Neue Galerie, Cipriani Wall Street, and the Urban Glass House—has also done 40 Mercer’s branding campaign.

But even buying one of the building’s smaller apartments— a hardly humble,1,700-square-foot two-bedroom enfilade and the only one whose windows have both red and blue panes of the colored glass that makes the building so Mondrian-esque—was a severe financial stretch, a testament to both men’s affinity for the place. It also makes a supreme location for the couple’s collection of Donald Judd furniture and sculpture.

Even now, when all the apartments are long sold and Pandiscio could easily stop gushing, he says that his initial sales pitch of world-class luxury totally missed the mark. “It wasn’t until the place was more or less done that I really got in it, and got to see that Nouvel is all about light and reflection and volume and proportion,” he says. “I felt like I had kind of failed.” Hardly.


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