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Sliding down a four-story Manhattan penthouse: Skyhouse

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Skyhouse is a contemporary home in the sky that was constructed by David Hotson Architect, the four level penthouse occupies the summit of an early skyscraper and commands astonishing views of the surrounding Lower Manhattan cityscape. The project involved the construction of a set of unique living spaces inside a decorative penthouse structure which had never before been used as a residence. The spaces of this residence and the vistas channeled through it ascend and descend through all four levels of the penthouse structure and into the three-dimensional cityscape surrounding it in every direction. As the collaborative brainchild of architect David Hotson and interior designer Ghislaine Viñas, the project pairs Hotson’s crisply delineated spaces and rigorous architectural detailing with the vibrant colors, playful references and startling juxtapositions that are signatures of Viñas’ work.

The original penthouse — completed in 1895 — was essentially a hollow ornament for the skyline; beneath a steep hipped roof bristling with chimneys and dormers, the enormous carved angels spreading their wings across the four corners of the penthouse were an advertisement for the publisher of religious pamphlets which commissioned the original building in the late 19th century. When offered for sale as a condominium, the interior was a raw shell, with oddly configured partial floors and no services other than an industrial gas heater and the minimal bathroom and kitchenette required for it to be sold as a residential unit. Only the original riveted steel structural frame, the arched windows and the upward tapering volume of space under the enormous roof provided evidence of the late 19th century when the building was built.

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These few elements from another era established one pole for a residential interior otherwise anchored unmistakably in the present. The owners wanted a residence that was rigorous yet playful, uncompromising in the precision of its conception and execution, yet filled with spatial surprises which continually refresh the experience of living at the summit of a skyscraper surrounded These few elements from another era established one pole for a residential interior otherwise anchored unmistakably in the present. The owners wanted a residence that was rigorous yet playful, uncompromising in the precision of its conception and execution, yet filled with spatial surprises which continually refresh the experience of living at the summit of a skyscraper surrounded — above and below — by the extraordinary cityscape of Manhattan.

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In transforming this raw 19th century shell into a 21st century residence, the complex interior volume of the penthouse was restructured to create multi-level living spaces distributed between four levels and a intricate web of pathways and vistas passing between the interior levels of the apartment and out into the surrounding three-dimensional cityscape.

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This seating area sits within the large vertical space of the living room. A glass floor lets us look down to that level, while the arched dormer window looks toward the Chrysler Building.

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Here is a view of the same seating area from the fourth-floor attic space, the pyramid atop the living room. The attic is separated from the lower levels at the ends by canted panes of glass, providing safety but also an unencumbered view of below. The finishes of the built-in seating (designed by Ghislaine Viñas, who handled the interior design) are at odds with the white surfaces and painted steel. Another interesting detail is that the white surfaces reflect the colors, such that it’s hard to find any walls or ceilings devoid of color.

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Juxtaposed with this spatial drama, Viñas’ incandescent colors, startling over-scaled floral patterns, whimsical menagerie of animal forms, tongue-in-cheek lighting fixtures and sly pop-cultural references create a playful and lighthearted foil to the vertiginous architecture.

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Juxtaposed with this spatial drama, Viñas’ incandescent colors, startling overscaled floral patterns, whimsical menagerie of animal forms, tongue-in-cheek lighting fixtures and sly pop-cultural references create a playful and lighthearted foil to the vertiginous architecture.

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The design exploits its theatrical location by capturing framed views of the iconic buildings and bridges of the surrounding cityscape at a range of scales, from the dramatic skylight in the private elevator vestibule which frames the top of the new Beekman Tower by Frank Gehry looming above, to the intimate peephole in the guest bedroom shower which captures the glow of the Chrysler Building seventy blocks to the north.

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The residence features a four-story high entry hall spanned by structural glass bridges and illuminated by ingenious skylights borrowing light from upper level rooms, a fifty-foot tall living room ascended by climbing holds anchored to the central column, and a mirror-polished stainless steel slide that coils down through rooms and over stairways before it flares out to form a distorted wall at one end of the entry gallery.

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At one of the other dormer windows is a bathroom. A couple of interesting things are happening here: First, the sink is in the gap between the dormer and the canted inside wall; this detail occurs in all the bathrooms (even when the walls are vertical) because of the shape of the walls.

Second, the mirror and medicine cabinet are set into a piece of frosted glass within the arched opening. The latter admits light and maintains privacy, but as the photo on the right side here shows, opening the mirror provides a view of the building (designed by Frank Gehry) to the east.

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Photos: Eric Laignel

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Above: long section

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Above: cross section though living room one

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Above: cross section through living room two

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Above: cross section through entry stairwell

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  • Jub

    Very clear appartment, good ideas too. But I don’t think one can quietly watch tv when children are coming down the metallic slide just above.

  • Laundry john

    nice video.