Two VIP Architects on Their Career-Changing Project

Dean Kaufman

Enrico Bonetti and Dominic Kozerski were the ultimate insiders’ architects, creating exquisite under-the-radar projects for VIP clients. Now, with the biggest public building of their careers, that’s about to change.

Two years ago, Enrico Bonetti and Dominic Kozerski completed a house in Malibu, California, for legendary music producer Rick Rubin. Sitting on top of a hill with unmatched views of the Pacific, the project showed how much the New York City—based architects could do with nothing but light, air, and shrewd spatial and material stage management. “Once I came,” Rubin, who had spent years afloat in New York and Los Angeles, tells me, “I never wanted to leave.” It was, or so it seemed, the crowning achievement of Bonetti/Kozerski’s 19 years in practice.

And then, this past winter, it burned to the ground.

“The house right behind it was fine,” says Bonetti, laughing ruefully. While their famously zen client took the loss in stride—“Rick doesn’t carry a lot of emotional attachments,” as Kozerski puts it—for the architects, it was another matter. It felt, they say nearly in unison, as though “it signified something.” The end of something? Perhaps. But also the beginning of something else.

For even as the blaze raged on, the designers were overseeing the construction of another project—one larger and more complex, and in a place as glaringly public as Malibu is secluded. The new global headquarters of Pace Gallery is Bonetti/Kozerski’s first-ever large-scale, ground-up building, an eight-story high-rise in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Situated a block from the High Line, the popular elevated park, it joins the area’s extraordinary menagerie of contemporary architecture, standing cheek by jowl with buildings by Frank Gehry, Bjarke Ingels, Jeanne Gang, and others. With 75,000 square feet of floor space, the building combines Brutalist bulk with airier touches; it is topped by a hulking, glass-fronted exhibition and performance area, balanced elegantly above what appears to be a missing floor—in fact an outdoor terrace that runs through the building’s sixth story. The design, says Kozerski, drew together “all the things that interest us,” and on a scale unlike anything the firm had never attempted before.


A rendering of the Pace building’s southern façade. Courtesy Bonetti Kozerski Architecture

For Bonetti/Kozerski, it is a career-defining moment. After leaving their jobs at architect Peter Marino’s firm, the international duo—Bonetti, Italian; Kozerski, British—have taken on a string of evermore-enviable commissions, including a residence for fashion designer Donna Karan; interiors for Ian Schrager’s Public hotel; a Sant Ambroeus coffee bar; and boutiques for Ralph Rucci, DKNY, and Tod’s. All the while they have maintained a curious sort of profile, highly regarded among the cognoscenti yet somewhat under the broader cultural radar. Pace will change that: Its size, location, and dramatic aesthetic make it all but impossible to hide behind. “Doing this shows we can do buildings of all different kinds,” says Bonetti. Suddenly, the architects are playing for much higher stakes.

“We knew right away,” says Marc Glimcher. The second-generation director of Pace—the gallery founded by his father, Arne, who remains chairman—had included Bonetti/Kozerski on a select list of prospective architecture firms, most of them far larger and better known. Despite only scant familiarity with their previous work, both Glimchers immediately recognized that the Bonetti/Kozerski proposal represented an intriguing departure from the typical white-box art spaces. The structure’s hard-edged presence seems to nod to the gallerists’ particular artistic lineage. “Our sensibility comes heavily out of Abstract Expressionism and minimalism,” says Arne Glimcher. “This echoes that.”

Since finishing the gallery, Bonetti/ Kozerski has spread its wings. One recent client is Giovanna Vitelli, vice president of Italian yacht builder Azimut|Benetti, who commissioned the duo to design the interiors of Benetti’s new Oasis 135 series. Applying their architectural sensibility to the maritime sphere was a first for them—and an unusual project for any firm of their profile. Though it’s pure coincidence that the company and Enrico share a similar-sounding name, both partners’ European backgrounds did ensure some philosophical alignment. Says Vitelli, “Their taste reflects the fact they come from the Old World, but that’s combined with an understanding of new trends and their experience with contemporary design.” That combination led to a vessel with an unusual seamlessness between interior and exterior, eschewing the usual clichés of seagoing luxury (ebony, onyx, marble) in favor of a more domestic mix of rosewood accents and textiles.


An apartment in Manhattan's Olympic Tower by Bonetti Kozerski Architecture. Enrico Bonetti

Tod’s, the luxury shoe retailer, has been a longtime client, but their latest collaboration shows the architects are helping to take the brand in a new direction. Tod’s Library is a boutique concept that allows customers to digitally mix and match their own combinations of leather, stitching, and lacing. The first location, inside New York City’s mammoth Hudson Yards complex, marks an evolution in the design language Bonetti/ Kozerski created for the company, with even more organic finishes and finely wrought details. “They were able not just to understand our brand,” says company CEO Diego della Valle, “but to translate Tod’s DNA into architecture.”

In what is arguably the architects’ most glamorous commission, the two are at work on a sprawling resort in Ibiza. The island’s reputation as Europe’s party capital is, in part, what Bonetti/Kozerski are working against: “There’s this idea that Ibiza doesn’t have really nice things,” says Kozerski—a misapprehension, he points out, since the island’s older private homes can be fairly spectacular. The resort (as yet unnamed, but scheduled to open next year) will be built on just such a property, a former farm on a cliff into which the architects are embedding an underground spa that will have skylights cut into the hillside. Clustered around it, 17 guest rooms offer an intimate, monasterial environment that should be a welcome respite for travelers keen to avoid the thrumming beachfront nightclubs.

All this (to say nothing of their ongoing work for hotel magnate André Balazs, as well as on their own line of furnishings) results in a palpable hum of activity inside the airy downtown studio where Kozerski and Bonetti work alongside a staff of 19. On their office wall hang archival architecture documents; two in particular—one of the National Theatre, the 1976 concrete behemoth in London’s South Bank, the other of a sprawling, early-20th-century country house by Edwin Lutyens— seem telling, their eclectic combination of technology and romance, precision and bravado a reflection of the architects’ own mindset. “The work should never look overdesigned,” says Bonetti. The firm’s style is lush and sensuous, but there’s rarely anything fussy about it. Bonetti/Kozerski have gotten where they are today by being unabashed purveyors of a robust yet refined aesthetic that they have proved is adaptable to almost any condition.

The only question now is how to keep up. The pair are already looking forward, they hope, to rebuilding on the Malibu site of Rubin’s burned-down home. “We like to work directly on every single detail for every single project,” says Bonetti—a degree of attention rarely possible for big-time firms turning out big-time projects. But, as Kozerski says, “We’re figuring it out.