Skyhouse is an aptly named skiesscraper penthome in lower Manhattan. The home was created by David Hotson, who inserted four floors to the formerly unoccupied hipped roof space beginning on the 21st floor of a landmark building near City Hall Park. The interior design has been managed by designer Ghislaine Viñas, that inserted colorful furnishings, floral accents, and playful fixtures to the otherwise monochromatic spaces.
Hotson gave me a tour of this recently finished job, showing me the Skyhouse’s details, many of these concealed, and clarified the ideas behind this complicated project. This tour moves from the entrance and living room back down again and to the attic. Photographs do not do the design justice, however they call the residents joys and their guests can enjoy.
at a Glance
Who lives here: A Totally minded bunch
Location: New York City
Size: 7,000 square feet
That is intriguing: A slide. A rock-climbing column. Tons of windows and openings.
Easily the most striking portion of Skyhouse is the polished stainless steel skid that winds its way from your attic level to the living room in two sections. Here we are looking up at the slide at the family room as it makes its final descent.
However, the Skyhouse is much more than something playful inserted into a classic building. As we will see, it is a spatially complex and rich space that should reward the citizens as well as their guests for several years to come.
Since the apartment occupies the surface of the building all by itself, the elevator brings people directly into it. A little room with faceted white walls and a skylight hints at the complexities that await. A left turn, a few steps up a short stretch of slide, and one arrives at a tall space beside the stair.
The space is defined by white surfaces (angled ceilings and walls), exposed structural steel, polished metal bands, glass guardrails and bridges, and light coming from hidden windows. It is confusing yet also exhilarating.
What makes the design even more notable is that this is. The granite, brick and terra-cotta building dates to 1895, though it was modern for its time, being that it had been one of the first steel-frame skyscrapers in Manhattan. The first floor of this Skyhouse is the one using the large arched windows; much of this job is fit above this tall space, in the tight cool roof above it. From this view it is worth noting the windows in the roof: arched dormers and smaller round openings above those.
Hotson took advantage of each dormer and round opening as a source of light. This view up to the attic from close to the entrance reveals one of the dormers, made visible with means of a glass floor that helps to bring its mild outside just one room.
After the left turn to the apartment, you are on an axis with one of the large arched windows facing west, toward the 100-year-old Woolworth Building and the World Trade Center site outside. This view draws you past the tall space beside the stair and into the living room.
However, no sort of comfort level is attained, as right next to the window is that blue aperture. What is it? An Anish Kapoor sculpture? Actually it is the end of the slide, but we will go through the rest of the job first. (Note the sculpture on the mezzanine above the slide, yet)
Fundamentally the Skyhouse is a long rectangle with a full-height living area on one side and stacked bedrooms on the other end; in between are the kitchen, bathrooms, more bedrooms along with other spaces. Even though the slide circuits through the bedroom spaces on the southwest, the living area on the north is marked by means of a swing and a rock-climbing column.
Green and orange footholds are attached to the 40-foot steel pillar, making their way from the bottom degree to the pyramidal space that is tucked into a corner of the hip roof. About halfway up is a seating area that can be glimpsed as the white surfaces protruding into the space above the steel beams.
To head up to the seating area, we have to backtrack to the stairs. Stepping off at the mezzanine we take in a view toward the living area from the job of the sculpture above the end of the slide (viewed in the fifth photo). From there we could proceed along the glass guardrail to a study along with also a seating area overlooking the living room, but to reach the seating area we watched from below, we need to head up one more floor.
Now we’ve arrived at the seating area that sits inside the large vertical space of the living area. A glass flooring lets us look down to this level, whereas the arched dormer window (third photo) appears toward the Chrysler Building.
Here’s a view of the seating area from the fourth-floor attic space. The attic is separated from the lower levels at the ends by canted panes of glass, providing security but also an unencumbered view of below.
As you probably noticed, the finishes of the built-in chairs (designed by Ghislaine Viñas, that managed the inside design) are at odds with all the white surfaces and painted steel. However, the comparison works, because the finishes and other splashes of colour throughout are just that — little moments that punctuate various parts of the Skyhouse.
Another intriguing part is how the white surfaces reflect the colors, such that it is hard to discover any ceilings or walls devoid of colour.
A glass ground on the attic level gives a glimpse to the space beside the stair; a glass bridge down one level crosses the space. This is one of the most disorienting parts of the Skyhouse, one that really embodies Hotson’s intention to shape space rather than create sculptural objects, as many architects attempt to perform these days.
Much of the design happened following the interior had been demolished along with the casing has been three-dimensionally scanned to make a computer version. Hotson carried out much of the design inside the computer environment, aligned with the customer’s adopting of mathematical complexity (one of the customers routed Hotson his dissertation for inspiration). With such complex interactions with surface, emptiness, structure and mild, it’s easy to determine how a computer would have to be involved.
The slide begins in the attic at the end opposite the living area. A similar angled piece of glass separates the attic from the guest bedroom down one level.
The mouth of this slide along with the piece of glass are actually independent of each other (the former doesn’t rest on the latter), so the slide can proceed without damaging the glass.
The slide runs in two sections; the primary is from the attic space down one level to a hallway by the guest bedroom. Then you can continue the second leg to the exit near the dining area we saw before.
Here’s a view from the glass bridge (its own glass guardrail is visible in the bottom-right corner) that joins the stair and the guest bedroom. The steel near the peak of the hipped roof is visible in the top opening, and the slide is visible in two, as it makes its way from the attic to the guest bedroom to our right.
Like the apartment, the stainless steel tubing of this slide contains occasional openings; now we could see one at the larger opening at the left.
In the guest bedroom the slide is an undeniable presence, snaking its way down over the bed. A brightly colored mural covers the wall behind the bed and can be reflected in the surfaces of the slide. The reflections accentuate the manifold structure of this slide (it had been fabricated in Germany and put together onsite before the walls were constructed). This illness accentuates the motion of the slide and of the people inside.
The final leg of this slide curls its way down over the sofa in the little family room.
To the best of us is a TV, and outside is your master bedroom, which sits below the guest bedroom. The closely coiled slide makes a significant statement in this space, but notice the way its mild slope near the bottom lets people slow down before they depart by the dining area. Amazingly, this particular stretch of slide is supported at two things: the wall at the exit along with a little flange two tales up by the guest bedroom.
Hotson discovered inspiration in the slides of German artist Carsten Höller; his show at the Tate Modern in 2006 was actually followed by a large slide inserted to New York’s New Museum at 2011. As executed, the slide will be as much art as play.
It’s worth looking around the apartment again to see some of the unique details beyond the slide, stair and living area. This is one of the dormer windows that happens to perfectly frame the Woolworth Building to the west.
A glass pane below the window helps to deliver light to the lower levels while also supplying security. Here is the window we are looking up at in the next photo.
In different parts of the home, triangular glass panes fill the gaps between the walls along with steeply sloped hip roof. These room dividers act clear with all the flick of a switch, so mild could be “borrowed” at a few times and privacy can be ensured the rest of the time.
At one of those dormer windows is a toilet. A couple interesting things are happening here: First, the sink is at the gap between the dormer and the canted interior wall; this detail occurs in all the bathrooms (even when the walls are perpendicular) because of the contour of these walls.
Second, the mirror and medicine cabinet are put into a sheet of frosted glass within the arched opening. The latter admits light and preserves privacy, but as the photo on the right side here reveals, opening the mirror provides a view of this building (designed by Frank Gehry) to the east.
The final detail is an aperture inside the shower beside the sink in the previous photo. An individual can take a shower and also look at a distant view of the Chrysler Building (awarded the photo, you’ll have to trust me). This view is through an opening in the wall filled with the dormer by the seating area above the living area (ninth photo).
This detail illustrates how Hotson formed the distances on the inside based on external factors (light, views) in addition to the requirements of each room. Views like the one of the Chrysler Building in the shower orient people to the city from deep inside the ground plan.
Walls are not solid; they’re punctured and pleated to make connections across space. Yes, the design is more complex, but there is a logic to it that contributes to a never-ending chain of surprises.
See more photographs of the house