Antonio Vendome’s Urban Glass House: An Architectural Testament to One Man’s Hard Slog

The Urban Glass House is as synonymous with the area as it is with real estate developer Antonio Vendome and the designer Philip Johnson. 

It presents a stark contrast in a neighborhood founded on the sweat of dockmen, blue-collar workers, and longshoremen. Even today, you can see the industrial genesis of this neighborhood from the concrete bricks and industrial offices, where functionality takes precedence over aesthetics. 

This is the neighborhood that raised real estate developer Antonio Vendome, son of Italian immigrants from Naples who, like millions of others, tried their luck at the land of opportunity. He started off shining shoes and just basically doing anything that could make him money. Unlike some of the youth of his time, any cash he earned, he reinvested. 

At 21 years old, with just guts and the inflexibility of youth, he opened his first restaurant in the 70s with the emphasis on quick service. It was a neighborhood in flux, after all. From printing and manufacturing industry, artists and designers flock to the area since they could not afford the trendier SoHo or the Tribeca, or the West Village neighborhoods.

His food business grew and he opened new restaurants. Pretty soon, he ventured into an arena he barely knew anything about—real estate. In just two decades since opening his first restaurant, Vendome purchased the warehouse that stored butter and egg at the corner of Spring and Washington streets.

It was to be the location of his most ambitious project at that time—the Urban Glass House. He commissioned designer architect Philip Johnson to lay down his vision and the result is a 12-story condominium that is more than a testament to his success but rather pays homage to the community that he grew up in. 

Vendome didn’t want to become a landlord that gets rich on the backs of hardworking tenants. He wanted occupants to be proud of their home. 

The Urban Glass House is a work of art, also in reverence to Vendome’s unexpected love of the arts cultivated by years of interactions with local artists who paid him with a piece of art rather than money in exchange for meals. 

Although it stands out in the neighborhood as an artistic marvel, the Urban Glass House was actually an after-thought. In fact, you can call it as an audition piece for another more ambitious collaboration between Vendome and Johnson—The Habitable Sculptor. Both men shared the vision of constructing a piece of art that people can live in.  Unfortunately, that chapter in the book has yet to be written. To date, Vendome is still looking for a location to build the structure.