Upper East Side Townhouse
- MKCA // Michael K Chen Architecture
- 1M - 100M
- 5-20 Piani
- Alan Tansey, Justin Snider, Braden Caldwell, Elena Hasbun, Michelle Frantilizzi, Natasha Harper, Julian Anderson, Robinson Strong, Michael Chen
- General Contractor
- IA Construction Managemenet
- Structural, MEP, Facade Engineering
- Buro Happold
- Landscape Architecture
- Local Office Landscape Architecture
- Preservation Consultant
- Prudon and Partners
- Lighting Design
- Brian Orter Lighting Design
The reinvention of a badly degraded, but significant 1879 Neo-Grec townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side negotiates and balances the building’s history and context with a desire for a forward-looking, contemporary residence. This is accomplished largely through an exceptional attention to craft, augmented by digital methods for design, coordination, and a broadly collaborative approach.
Conceived as both a family home and a setting for large-scale entertaining and events, the house is organized around multi-directional and multi-level circulation. Opportunities for light, air, and circulation to enliven the interior and exterior on the highly constrained site were developed through generous vertical openings and glazed double height spaces that emphasize the building’s grand proportions and create visual and spatial connections between floors.
Notable collaborations enabled by the design approach include a site-specific installation by artist Sarah Oppenheimer, integrated into the top floor of the building. Comprised of a flush walkable skylight, an aluminum manifold, and a front-silvered mirror, the artwork reflects a perpetually vertical slice of sky into the space of the main stair and library, and introduces a skewed angle into the overall geometry of the building, as well as a strong linkage between interior and exterior spaces that also informs the design of the rooftop bulkhead and terraces, and the rear facade.
The facade makes extensive use of sculpted terracotta elements, and incorporates a vertical garden, designed in collaboration with SUNY conservation botanists, that features a host of native woodland flora. Some plantings used are federally endangered species due to the impact of climate change, and are being propagated for the first time as a test case in urban conservation gardening. Intensive environmental analysis informed the geometry of the facade and planter elements which creates passively differentiated nano gradients of temperature, exposure, and moisture for a variety of native plantings.