Chelsea Garret: Pieced together from old and new elements and animated by light and shadow, an industrial penthouse serves as an enticing space for understanding the art of Alexander Calder.
- Stainless steel panels: Rimex Metals, fabricated by A. Zahner
- Rubber Roof Tiles: ECOsurfaces
- Skylights /clerestories: Kalwall
- Concrete floors: MAPEI (Ultratop)
Like an architectural therapist, Stephanie Goto stripped away layers of troubles that had weighed on a trio of rooftop sheds in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood to reveal their true personality and inner strengths. Added at different times to the roof of an early-20th-century printing building, the sheds formed a motley set of ramshackle structures when Goto was hired by the Calder Foundation, which has offices one floor below, to turn them into a 4,000-square-foot “project space.” Alexander S.C. Rower, the grandson of the artist Alexander Calder and president of the foundation, wasn't exactly sure how the space would be used, but was drawn to the rooftop structures' rugged industrial character and views north to midtown and the Empire State Building.
“We let the space dictate what should be there,” says Goto, who has designed restaurants such as Corton and collaborated with Tadao Ando on Morimoto, both in New York. When helping Ando with that project, she assisted him in dealings over a proposed Calder Museum in Philadelphia that didn't move forward. Rower met her then.
After removing paint and tar from skylights and taking down crumbling partitions, Goto exposed the steel frames of the three sheds, two of which touched each other and one that was separated by a narrow, enclosed space. “We were pleased to discover the place had great bones, so we worked with the existing architecture—including the old bolts and connections,” she says.
While creating a cohesive identity for the New York penthouse, Goto revealed the personality of each of its three portions. She used daylight to draw visitors through the project, but made sure each room crafted light in a different way. In the easternmost room, she repaired angled skylights, replacing old glass with translucent panels to bathe the space in an even, diffuse light that's particularly good for viewing Calder's stabiles. “It has the feeling of an artist's garret in Paris,” says Rower. “My grandfather loved Paris.”
In the adjacent middle gallery, Goto added a clerestory on the south to balance light coming from a restored one on the north. Although the first two rooms now flow directly into each other, the flat ceiling and translucent clerestories in the second space imbue it with a distinct character. In what had been the third shed, Goto replaced small windows with a wall of tall glass panes that maximizes the view to the north.
“We devised a narrative that pulls you through the project,” says Goto. As the design developed, so did the program—with Rower seeing how the main spaces could house rotating displays of art (by Calder and others) and host symposia, performances, and parties. In the low-ceiling area on the south, Goto designed two workstations with beveled edges that minimize their profiles. She also tucked a storage space and a conservation room there.
Figuring out how to use the narrow space between the second and third sheds proved to be a challenge. After wrestling with a number of schemes, Goto finally inserted a tight stair spiraling up to a 115-square-foot room that has a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass looking south and which Rower uses as his office and a place to think. Everything in the project is painted white or off-white, but Goto used raw steel for the stair to provide an animated gray accent.
When asked if Calder's art influenced her design, Goto replies, “Spending so much time at the foundation, you breathe in Calder. But I never wanted to imitate or mimic his art. Even with the stair, which is sculptural in character, I didn't want to copy any of his forms or shapes.”
For the exterior, Goto looked for a material that would unify the project. She picked a bead-blasted stainless steel with an interference coating that makes the metal look blue and designed a system of triangular panels that create diamond-shaped compositions. “We wanted a geometry that had no real pattern, so it would tie everything together,” says Goto. “And we liked the idea of a material that refracts just blue light, since it echoes our use of light on the inside.”
The unusual facade creates a sense of mystery, enhanced by a main entry that's clad in the same material and identified by only a stainless steel pull and a camera above the door. Inside, visitors can look through the axially aligned galleries all the way to a rounded steel door reminiscent of those on ships. The door “accentuates the procession through the galleries,” says Goto, “and hints at a world beyond.”
While expressing its own sense of craft and design, Goto's architecture embraces Calder's work in a setting where light, shadow, and movement bring art to life.
Completion Date: December 2011
Gross square footage: 4,000 square feet (inside); 3,500 square feet (outside)
Total construction cost: withheld
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