Graftworks aims high with a New York roof garden that references the surrounding skyline
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 11/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
New York offers architects few opportunities to make a real mark on the cityscape. There's virtually nowhere to go but up—as in the roof. "It's a whole other landscape up there," marvels Graftworks principal John Henle. "Seen from the ground, Manhattan is all about verticality, about dramatic slivers of sky and buildings. Seen from above, the sky opens up, and the horizontals are suddenly revealed."
Capturing this feeling of expansiveness guided Graftworks's design of a roof garden for a couple with grown children. The view 32 stories up had always been spectacular—taking in the Chrysler Building, the East River, and the midtown skyline—but the former deck hadn't maximized available space. Previous conditions also violated building codes and aesthetic sensibilities. "It was just a mishmash of disparate levels. There was no logic to it, no meaning," recalls Henle. The clients requested a complete overhaul, with increased shade and room for greenery.
Graftworks's scheme collapses the geometry of the view into the architecture itself. Cedar railings on three sides mimic the horizontal detailing of nearby buildings. Meanwhile, a serpentine two-tone cedar wall encloses the fourth side, screening the mechanicals of the high-rise and accomodating a cooking area and a wraparound seating nook. "The old deck literally followed the property line, which jogs around the building's mechanicals," says principal Lawrence Blough. "The new structure flows like the East River, adjusting to obstacles it encounters."
Shade is provided by a network of cantilevered beams that reach out and grab the skyline. A feat of engineering, the trellis is supported by a curved Douglas fir glulam beam offering maximum support (with minimum mass) to counter significant wind and snow loads. For the profile of the cantilevered beams, which angle sharply upward in public areas and less so in the intimate reading nook, the architects drew inspiration from the migratory patterns of birds. "Much of our work deals with animal and insect movement," explains Blough. "Patterns unify each program while allowing for variation."
Such elevated discourse epitomizes the crafted, research-based philosophy at Graftworks. Says Blough, "In all our projects, we search for opportunities to marry research, form, and technology." This quest often entails tapping into expertise from outside the architecture field proper. For instance, the firm enlisted a boat builder to execute the roof deck's complex woodwork.
Blough and Henle unquestionably do their homework. But the duo also delights in the unanticipated, felicitious elements that bring each project to life—factors, such as weather, that are clearly beyond human control. "The play of shadows really animates this space," says Blough. "It enhances the feeling of soaring, of flying above the city." Intangibly, the character of the roof deck shifts from season to season, even from hour to hour.