An Update on NYU’s Superbuilding, 181 Mercer Street

Aerial shot looking towards 181 Mercer in NYC

Downtown Manhattan has many neighborhoods that have a small town, neighborhood vibe. That’s why there are so many strong opinions about the district’s latest construction of 181 Mercer Street, New York University’s $128M expansion.

The 23-story mixed-use superbuilding has quite the presence, wedged between Houston and Bleeker Streets on Mercer Street. It’s an area known for its historic buildings, mom and pop shops, designer boutiques, indie film theatres, flexible office spaces and small cafes. Now a glass superstructure for undergrads.

While the building isn’t expected to open until next fall, there has been significant progress. The glass paneling around the façade is finished. The construction cranes have come down, but there’s still scaffolding around the sidewalk of the building (this is New York, remember, there’s always scaffolding).

181 Mercer boasts 58 classrooms, student housing and performance space for NYU’s drama and music programs. It also has a theater, study space and a sports center. There is also supposed to be a space for the local neighborhood, as well, to build community.

The building is designed by two architecture firms: Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake, both of whom worked on concept design together throughout the construction process. From the KieranTimberlake end of the project, the firm’s co-founder and partner, James Timberlake, said that it wasn’t exactly a cut-and-dried collaboration.

“It demanded a holistic approach to the design with all facets addressed simultaneously,” said Timberlake. That scope included urban design, the façade, the sustainability factor, as well as the building’s interior.

“With a defined zoning envelope and large, complex program, the project presented a puzzle where all variables were investigated together to achieve coherence and meaning.”

But what’s the latest update to 181 Mercer? According to KieranTimberlake’s partner, Richard Maimon, they’re currently focusing on finishing work on the building’s interior, including creating plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, as well as circulation systems throughout the building.

There’s no doubt that 181 Mercer is a unique multi-use building in a crammed downtown Manhattan — it includes athletics, recreation, residential, dining and classrooms. The design team has organized them systematically.

“Each component occupies a ‘neighborhood’ within the building, linked by circulation positioned along the exterior glass,” Maimon explained.

The building was designed with a goal to reduce emissions, water usage and waste. 181 Mercer is part of NYU’s Climate Action Plan, where the aim is to reduce 50% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

To help reduce energy use and carbon, NYU’s own Cogeneration plant, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 23% and air pollutants by 68%, is being used at 181 Mercer to heat and cool the building. The project is aiming for LEED Gold certification.

The Co-Gen plant at 181 Mercer is powered by natural gas, which creates heat, cold water and electricity. The waste heat from the plant will be used to dehumidify the building.

“Our energy model shows the building is beating the NYC Energy Conservation Code by more than 20%, which is no small feat for such a large and mixed-use structure.”

For those of us who live or work downtown, there is the curiosity to peek our heads in and visit the space once it’s finished next year. Parts of the building will be open to the public and used by the community.

The building was designed with input from various communities, according to Maimon. The north lobby will be open to the public during the day as a meeting place for locals, while the theaters and athletic spaces will host performances and events open to the public.

Model rendering of the orchestral rehearsal space at 181 Mercer
Orchestra rehearsal space. 181 Mercer, New York University, designed by Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake | Illustration by Brooklyn Digital Foundry | Image provided by NYU

There will also be the new Greene Street Walk, a fully landscaped pedestrian area that will connect Houston and Bleecker Streets. The greening of the street began this spring and aims to link Soho to Greenwich Village and NYU.

“The walkway was created to provide a passageway along what was once an original street,” said Timberlake.

Another highlight is the building’s green roof on the sixth floor, offering views of downtown Manhattan.

Outside walkway of NYUs new super building
Outdoor area. 181 Mercer, New York University, designed by Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake | Illustration by Brooklyn Digital Foundry | Image provided by NYU

“It contributes to NYU’s sustainability goals in reducing stormwater runoff,” said Timberlake. “It’s a uniquely urban outdoor social space.”
Since the beginning, the design team has had to listen to NYU faculty, administrators, students and the local neighborhood.

“One theme we heard again and again was the desire for a place to meet that would be unprogrammed and flexible,” said Maimon.

It led the designers and architects to create a common space, which is called “the Commons,” that sits at the heart of 181 Mercer.

model rendering of the interior at 181 Mercer
Commons. 181 Mercer, New York University, designed by Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake | Illustration by Brooklyn Digital Foundry | Image provided by NYU

“It wasn’t originally part of the program, but this space is designed as the ‘living room’ and central gathering space of the building,” Maimon said.

This common space will be public and offer a café and seating area that connects with the building’s main stairwells.

“With natural light and views east and west, it provides a vibrant destination and place of pause, serving thousands of visitors to the building each day,” Maimon added. “The building does not take a one-size-fits-all approach toward how people live, study, play and gather. Instead, it acknowledges that a diversity of spaces will promote a strong community.”

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