Ian Schrager Company Logo 

The New York Times | February 9, 2006

Living at Cool, Not Just Visiting

By Julie V. Iovine

BOND. Forty Bond. That's the address of the latest downtown luxury condominium being whipped into shape by Ian Schrager in league with the high-brow Swiss architectural team of Herzog & de Meuron. The name brings to mind the spy who never came in from the Cool.

And it had better. At upward of $2,800 a square foot, the condo on Bond Street needs to offer an experience beyond ho-hum workaday living.

But in the crowded field of luxury condos by celebrated architects, it is getting harder every day to be noticed. The ranks are heavy with A-listers — Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, Jean Nouvel, Charles Gwathmey and even Philip Johnson from the beyond — all vying to reinvent lavish living for those few, those happy few who never have to take out the trash or cook for the children.

"I'm interested in rethinking the genre," said Mr. Schrager, who is also reinventing the Gramercy Park Hotel with condos by John Pawson and hotel rooms by Julian Schnabel. "I'm making something really special for that person in the know who wants the unique living experience. It's the same person who went to my nightclubs and stayed at my hotels. Maybe now they're a little richer, a little older, but they still want to be part of the zeitgeist. I don't need many of them."

In other words, prospective seekers of smaller comforts, go home someplace else.

Enter Herzog & de Meuron, which is best known for the Tate Modern in London and, more recently, the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Forty Bond will be its first building in New York and its first condo in the United States. When the firm has taken on residential work, Jacques Herzog said in a phone conversation this week, it has more often been low-income housing. "We don't see ourselves in luxury," he said. "Our work is about experiment."

At 40 Bond — now a grim hole in the ground in always trending, never trendy NoHo — Herzog & de Meuron has done its radical best, envisioning an 11-story facade made entirely of cast glass with a greenish Coke-bottle hue.

Along the street, a cast-aluminum fence intended as a bold update on 19th-century cast-iron gates will look something like spray-foam squiggles, a nostalgic reference to the graffiti that once defaced many city surfaces. The graffiti pattern recurs throughout the project, most noticeably in the lobby, where it is etched on towering walls of wavy white Corian.

The condo consists of 27 units, including five "town houses" or triplex apartments entered at ground level with their own backyards and tiny forecourts facing Bond Street. Above the town houses are 22 loftlike dwellings ranging from 1,269 square feet for a one-bedroom to 3,288 for a four-bedroom.

Ceiling heights are a glorious 11 feet; bathrooms have smoked oak walls and milk-white Corian counters ("Corian is more expensive than marble," Mr. Schrager explained). Are there wood floors? Yes, indeed. The entire space is covered in wide planks of oak imported from Austria, including the kitchens.

When it comes to stardust du jour, nobody sells it better than Mr. Schrager, nightclub act turned swank hotelier, now swashbuckling developer. But it may take more than flashy lures to get prospective buyers to take the hook. Anyone driving up the West Side Highway can see that many of the original "starchitect" condos by Richard Meier built four years ago are still uninhabited.

Mr. Schrager adamantly, albeit predictably, dismisses any mention of a real estate bubble at bursting point. "There's always room for something special," he said. Even so, there are plenty of potential wrenches that could jam the works on the current luxury condo merry-go-round. For starters, construction costs are rising fast as China swallows up raw materials for its own building boom. Closer to home, high-end residential contractors with the requisite skill are flush with work and can afford to be very picky, and costly.

And then there's the most delicate concept of all: expiration date. Adding architectural gems to the skyline is a great thing, said Jon McMillan, a director of planning at the Rockrose Development Corporation, but as a marketing tactic, "it has a shelf life of about 15 minutes — now that everyone's doing it, it's played out."

Until now, Mr. Schrager has shrouded the prospectus of 40 Bond in the highest-level secrecy. And secrecy has worked like a nightclub's velvet rope, fueling rabid interest. When a blog posted a rendering of the building facade (labeled Project No. 253 and bootlegged from a class taught by Mr. Herzog at the Harvard Graduate School of Design), Mr. Schrager said he had it removed. The real estate blogs went ballistic. Mission accomplished: 7 of the 27 units have been sold at prices ranging from $3.5 million for a one-bedroom to $10 million for a triplex.

With only the Richard Meier and Gwathmey Siegel luxury condos completed, it is too soon to tell how ripe the market for luxury condos costing close to $3,000 a square foot will remain. Certainly, Mr. Schrager himself is one of the most sensitive barometers in town. When does he move on to the next thing? "Once something goes mainstream, it's over for me," Mr. Schrager said. "Violating the status quo is what gets me up in the morning."

For most homeowners, however, it probably just takes a strong cup of coffee in a comfortable kitchen.