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FORWARD RESIDENCE
New York, New York

CLIENT Confidential
PROGRAM Penthouse residence in an iconic Lower Manhattan building
AREA 260 m² (2,800 sf)
COST Confidential
STATUS Commenced 2007; completed Construction Documents 2008
DESIGN ARCHITECT REX
PERSONNEL Tim Archambault, Erez Ella, Andrew Heid, Adam Koogler, Joshua Ramus
EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT Michael Zenreich
CONSULTANTS Construction Specifications, DHV, Front, Plus Group, SGH, Tillotson Design

An internet guru turned neurosciences student required a residence that could accommodate his indeterminate lifestyle—executive, family man, student—for a minimum of ten years. At the same time, he wanted to avoid the proliferation of single-use rooms that burdened his former, suburban home. His new residence needed to house an extensive 8,000-volume book collection, a 4,000-bottle wine collection, a burgeoning art collection, and the provisional requirements for a future family. And he wanted a significant return on his investment.

The site is the penthouse of the landmarked Jewish Daily Forward Building. The apartment came with rights to half of the building’s roof terrace, overlooking the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

The site is the penthouse of the landmarked Jewish Daily Forward Building. The apartment came with rights to half of the building’s roof terrace, overlooking the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

By inserting a single object into the 48’ x 48’ space, the apartment is divided into rooms with distinct character, but whose uses are not fixed. This object makes essential daily service spaces—such as the kitchen and bathrooms—easily accessible from all points in the apartment, allowing the owner to re-configure the four surrounding living spaces at will.

By inserting a single object into the 48’ x 48’ space, the apartment is divided into rooms with distinct character, but whose uses are not fixed. This object makes essential daily service spaces—such as the kitchen and bathrooms—easily accessible from all points in the apartment, allowing the owner to re-configure the four surrounding living spaces at will.

In a conventional New York apartment, 8% to 12% of the floor plate is essentially wasted on poché (unusable space taken up by the thickness of walls, shafts, ducts, etc.).

In the Forward Building, this percentage of poché was already present in the thick perimeter walls.

Any additional poché, such as typical interior walls, would therefore render the project highly inefficient and reduce its value.

The inserted object is therefore conceived as a hyper-efficient storage block, a mass of shelving from which the infrastructure of daily life can be excavated: bathrooms, kitchen, wine cave, closets, vertical circulation, and mechanicals. Inert poché is eliminated.

The inserted object is therefore conceived as a hyper-efficient storage block, a mass of shelving from which the infrastructure of daily life can be excavated: bathrooms, kitchen, wine cave, closets, vertical circulation, and mechanicals. Inert poché is eliminated.

This infrastructure and storage core is clad with a walnut wrapper outside and a translucent resin liner inside.

This infrastructure and storage core is clad with a walnut wrapper outside and a translucent resin liner inside.

This infrastructure and storage core is clad with a walnut wrapper outside and a translucent resin liner inside.

The outside treatment of the core provides each of the four spaces with a distinct character that remains unattached to any particular use. Over time, as the client’s needs change, a bedroom can become an office and in turn become a living room, all without requiring alterations to the core itself.

The outside treatment of the core provides each of the four spaces with a distinct character that remains unattached to any particular use. Over time, as the client’s needs change, a bedroom can become an office and in turn become a living room, all without requiring alterations to the core itself.

The client still needed a significant return on his investment, and the easiest way to do this was to increase the apartment’s size. Unfortunately, adding an additional floor to the penthouse apartment was impermissible: the Forward Building’s Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) had already been exceeded.

However, a loophole within the Building Code allows for usable area to be added beyond the FAR as long as it is “furniture,” i.e. not affixed to the building’s permanent structure.

By using structural shelving to create the storage block, a 500 square-foot mezzanine can be supported on top of the object, at the same level as the roof deck.

The mezzanine was designed to “float” within the perimeter of a giant existing skylight. Because the mezzanine does not engage the roof structure—and is supported by the self-supporting shelving below—this additional area is as-of-right and allowed under the Building Code. With Manhattan’s luxury real estate currently averaging at over $1,200 per square foot, this addition easily pays for itself, adding nearly $600,000 of value to the unit.

To overcome sightline concerns raised by the Landmarks Commission, the skylight was designed to be more beautiful than the existing skylight and retractable, though capable of returning to its previous height.

When the skylight is raised, the “furniture” provides additional living and/or office space, direct access to the roof deck, and amazing views of the skyline.

Image Credits: 7: Herzog & de Meuron

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