Constructed within a previously unoccupied four-story penthouse structure at the summit of one of the earliest surviving skyscrapers in New York City, SkyHouse is an experientially immersive residence suspended midway in the vertical cityscape of Lower Manhattan.
The original penthouse –completed in 1895– was essentially a hollow ornament for the skyline. The quartet of enormous carved angels spreading their wings across the four corners of the penthouse beneath a steep hipped roof bristling with chimneys and dormers was essentially an advertisement for the publisher of religious pamphlets which commissioned the original building. When architect David Hotson first encountered the penthouse over eleven decades after its completion, the interior was a raw shell, with oddly configured partial floors and no services other than an industrial gas heater and the minimal bathroom and kitchenette required for it to be sold as a residential condominium unit. Only the original riveted steel structural frame, the arched windows and the upward tapering volume of space under the enormous roof provided evidence of the late 19th century when the building was built.
These few elements from another era established one pole for a residential interior otherwise anchored unmistakably in the present. The owners wanted a residence that was rigorous yet playful, uncompromising in the precision of its conception and execution, yet filled with spatial surprises which continually refresh the experience of living at the summit of a skyscraper surrounded -above and below- by the extraordinary vertical cityscape of Manhattan.
In transforming this raw 19th century shell into a 21st century residence, Hotson restructured the complex interior volume of the penthouse to create multi-level living spaces distributed between four levels and a intricate web of pathways and vistas passing between the interior levels of the apartment and out into the surrounding three-dimensional cityscape.
The effect of the SkyHouse project is to create an immersive spatial experience which fills the awareness of the visitor, creating an narrative impression too rich and varied to be captured in images. The enveloping spaces, the ascending and descending vistas, the shifting relationships to the cityscape at a wide range of scales and distances, the sensation of suspension in luminous space high above the city, the experience of the meandering path of ascent diverging so dramatically from the sweeping path of descent – all of these experiences resist reduction to images, and coalesce into a vivid first-person present-tense impression which cannot be reproduced or represented.
The shaping of this vivid interior experience, accessible only to the visitor in real time, is the ultimate terrain of the SkyHouse project, and is perhaps the greatest luxury that this project affords its owners – a domain of living space which cannot be re-presented but can only be presented directly, within the intimate, immediate, experienced, present reality of the visitor stepping across the threshold.