In 1961, Rudolph began renting a small one-bedroom apartment at 23 Beekman Place overlooking the East River in Manhattan. Through a series of three major renovations he tested out his latest ideas for experimental materials and especially artificial lighting effects. In his bedroom he installed a “light curtain”, a series of light bulbs suspended in front of mirrored wall that gave the illusion of infinite space.
A slump in the housing market allowed Rudolph to purchase the townhouse outright in 1974, and he immediately began an ambitious renovation project, transforming the historic brownstone into one of his most experimental statements on residential architecture. Rudolph kept the existing structure as rental units, constructing a multi-level penthouse for himself on top. Extending over the sidewalk to maximize the building envelope, the constructivist steel and cement forms contained an interior of staggering complexity.
Often referred to as a “triplex”, the penthouse contains precisely 27 different floor levels, supported by a steel skeleton clad in mirror-finish Formica. Floors were covered in a combination of the same reflective metal, white marble, carpet, and glass; while the few walls were mostly of white melamine panels and cabinetry. In the spirit of Sir John Soane’s house in London, Rudolph filled the apartment with his collection of sculpture and textiles, with hanging vines bringing a living aspect to the otherwise monochromatic palette.
Officially ‘completed’ in 1982, Rudolph constantly tinkered with his apartment through for the rest of his career, eventually running his office from his bedroom. The building’s exterior became a New York City Landmark in 2012.
Structural Engineer: Vincent DeSimone