Architect Philip M. Tusa moves up to the roof of an 1890s building in the Flatiron District
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 9/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Philip M. Tusa, AIA, was vaguely thinking about finding larger office space, but he was in no real hurry. Then, walking along Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District one day, the architect happened to pass by an 1890s commercial building with a posted announcement reading: "Penthouse, 840 square feet." That stopped him. Irresistibly enticed, he ascended nine levels. There, on the roof, he saw what turned out to be a freestanding photographer's studio, a 1920s structure with a tripartite angled wall of translucent glass. To the north, sight lines went straight to the Empire State Building; natural light streamed through open trusswork. Everything he saw suggested the varied options he envisioned for his ideal office. Virtually on the spot, he went through the necessary formalities to lease the property.
Deservedly not shy about extolling his own talents, Tusa says that he also acted as general contractor in converting the studio into an office for his firm. He first removed a divider wall near the entry, formerly a darkroom, and uncovered three boarded-up windows. Then he inserted a kitchenette, using excess square footage to gain room for an additional workstation. In the departed photographer's dressing room for fashion models, Tusa installed his private office. Other interventions involved repositioning a sink and new air-conditioning units.
The architect's forte—it borders on obsession—is what might be called productive rehabilitation. He loves to take old things and recast them in fresh guises, to take apart and reconfigure all kinds of furnishing components. He'll reuse goods brought along from former studios as well. At his new aerie, he was in his kaleidoscopic element. Furnishings were bought at retail and second-hand sources or found on-site and recycled to serve new purposes.
While settling in, for instance, Tusa discovered a shoji-type folding screen. He peeled off the rice paper, pressed the grid against another found object—a makeup mirror—and recessed the double-layered piece into Sheetrock. The objective was effect. Who needs pricey art?
Among other leftovers, panels of brushed metal laminated to wood are now used as work surfaces and countertops. A reclaimed painter's easel acts as a pinup board or mobile partition. And three pedestals originally for photography props now support such building models as a dandy likeness of Grand Central Terminal. (No, Tusa didn't compete for the renovation job. It was a prospective racquetball facility under the terminal's roof that he solicited and won.)
Perhaps the most decisive factor in Tusa's making the move to the top is the slightly concave end wall that he calls the cyclorama—a 19th-century term for a curved plane with images affixed so as to create a three-dimensional effect. He lined the expanse with metal-edged homosote panels in such a way as to serve as display boards for his firm's various works in progress.