A three-story live/work space in Manhattan by Marble Fairbanks Architects recalls a Parisian classic.
Abby Bussel -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
LIKE A VERTICAL MAISON DE VERRE , this triplex residence on Manhattan's West Side employs glass and steel to establish an internal precinct of light-filled live/work spaces within a tight urban site. In Modern Architecture Since 1900, William J.R. Curtis describes the famous house of glass designed by Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet in Paris (1928-1931) as "an elegant and translucent machine à habiter with a tranquil sense of place." The same could be said about this residence by Marble Fairbanks Architects (MFA), except the glass in question is transparent, and it is a floor and not a wall. Close enough.
"The project began as a simple stair connection between two apartments," explains Karen Fairbanks, who designed the triplex with her partner Scott Marble. Next came the idea for a glass floor to bring natural light deep into the lower levels of the 14-ft.6-in.-wide townhouse triplex (previously a simplex on the third floor and a duplex on the fourth and fifth floors with a rooftop skylight). From there, says Fairbanks, the scheme "evolved out of specific needs that unfolded as the project proceeded. A change in one part of the apartment necessitated a change in another part." Complicated by the incremental nature of the project, the challenges for the architects were to work within the narrow confines of the townhouse and solve program relationships vertically. "The physicality of movement," according to Fairbanks, became an organizing force, as it was in the Maison de Verre, where retractable stairs are raised and lowered between floors and walls, and doors are opened and closed on tracks.
Movement through the triplex, which measures 3,000 sq. ft. including the roof terrace, was guided by the client's live/work program. In contrast to the necessary separation of live and work (medical clinic) spaces inside Dr. Dalsace's Maison de Verre, the owner here required that some rooms be flexible enough to accommodate professional and private activities, with room functions changing as needed. A conference/guest room occupies the third floor, along with an office; the fourth floor houses a living/conference/screening room, along with the kitchen and dining area; and the top floor, completely private, holds a gym and the master bedroom.
With a mandate to maximize the flow of natural light through the rooftop skylight, Marble and Fairbanks designed a riser-free stair system that leaves the narrow light shaft wide open. Cantilevered from a steel tube buried in the party wall, triangular steel stairs with cast-rubber treads appear to float along one edge of the central light shaft. (The cantilevered steps, of course, move slightly when in use.) Thanks to the dramatic but unobstrusive stairs and the one-inch-thick glass floor set in a structural steel frame between the third and fourth stories, the visual connection between floors and functions is cohesive.
The flexibility of the dual-purpose rooms also requires the visual, and sometimes physical, separation of one space from another by way of sliding walls and horizontal shades. The folding, sliding wall on the third floor-which is, in fact, a series of individual, layered-plywood panels with a rubber laminate finish-opens and closes with the pull and push of the hand. A fabric shade, operated at the touch of a button, is mounted horizontally beneath the glass floor to separate the third story from the floors above. The kitchen can be closed off from the dining area with similar fanfare. Even the client's 250-pound projector can be concealed within a drop ceiling in the fourth-floor living room by way of a computer-controlled lift; yet another button lowers a screen across the living room's glass terrace doors. The entire operation is all very Maison de Verre, very machine à habiter.
The triplex was designed by the firm principals along with project team members David Riebe, Rebecca Carpenter, Jake Nishimura, and Todd Rouhe.