Photographs Courtesy John Bartlestone
On the Upper West Side of New York City there is a penthouse apartment with a glass-railed roof deck on top that looks out to spectacular views in every direction. Architect Arthur Pier of Pier, Fine Associates designed the project that took nearly two years to complete, and involved demolishing the original penthouse before constructing the new one.
The new penthouse is a 2,030 square foot, six-room apartment with three bathrooms, a raised deck on the lower terrace and the roof deck above. A spiral stair connects the two outdoor areas: the 1,455 square foot roof terrace and the 460 square foot roof deck, and adds a unique feature to the façade.
When asked what inspired him to create a roof deck, Arthur Pier explained, "There is something so unusual in New York City about creating an outdoor space with open 360° views. I think of the roof deck as an osprey's nest or a look out station on board ship. A space perched above Manhattan where you can take in the sweep of the river, the lights of the city and the sky. What a treat it is to embrace the sky in Manhattan, of all places! We were lucky, too, to have visionary clients who immediately understood the potential and were not afraid to go for it."
The spiral stair has a practical function but also an aesthetic one as well. Pier explains, "The spiral was appropriate for a number of reasons. The spiral stair form is often associated with stairs built to provide access to high places within constricted spaces such as in church belfries or castle towers and, of course, on ships. The Hudson, being a major shipping route, inspired the nautical vocabulary of the stair. Aside from its allegorical associations, the spiral created a unique vertical counterpoint to the horizontality of the façade composition. The spiral stair was also a practical choice from a construction standpoint. It was space efficient and could be factory pre-assembled and hoisted by crane, in a single piece, to the rooftop."
"Penthouses always present their own set of unique challenges because, as the architect, you are constructing at the point of intersection between the private space (the penthouse apartment) and the public space (the building and its structural, mechanical and roofing systems). In this case, there were complex regulatory, structural, mechanical and waterproofing problems that had to be resolved that are characteristic of building on top of an existing, fully occupied structure."
There were other challenges associated with the construction of the project. Pier explains, "In a project of this scope, you worry, first, about the elements and how to keep them out. The building was a fully occupied cooperative apartment building and it was necessary to open areas of the roof in order to expose the steel structure below to which we were attaching our steel frame. The contractor built temporary structures to protect the open roof and wall areas from rain and snow infiltration during the course of construction. Construction of this type in the northeast entails building throughout the year including during difficult winter conditions." The exterior wall of the penthouse was constructed with reinforced masonry, an air barrier, insulation and low-E insulated windows and doors, which provided an energy efficient exterior envelope.
Pier describes the unique aspects of designing a penthouse in contrast to designing a freestanding structure. "Part of what I find so interesting about penthouse design," he explains, "is that you are designing a "house" on top of a building. As a result, there are, of course, constraints, that you do not have in building a free standing home, but the siting of something on top of a building is such an opportunity to capture spectacular views and light and the challenges from a construction standpoint can really be exciting. Any ambitious project, whether small or large, in a crowded city will require negotiation, perseverance and compromise. This project was no exception. My clients and I had to navigate not only the city's regulatory apparatus, but also the cooperative's. The clients took the long view and their reward, in the end, was a spectacular penthouse."
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