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Name   Rudolph House
Architects   RUDOLPH, PAUL
Date   1973-1978
Address   23 Beekman Place, New York, USA
Floor Plan   372 SQ.M.

It would be hard to imagine a more audacious treatment of a traditional brownstone than this four-story addition constructed of exposed neo-Miesian steelwork with a wooden sub-frame and concrete infill. Rudolph has exploited this bold gesture of building a house on top of : a house as an occasion for creating a dynamic spatial sequence as much concerned with the vertiginous vertical space within as with longitudinal extension of the volume toward the river. The former is most evident in the clear plastic decking of the footbridges that connect the riserless staircase running throughout the section to serve the various levels that articulate the internal volume. At the same time the vertical displacement in space is touched with a playful voyeurism a as we may judge from the transparent jacuzzi and sink in the main bathroom opening to the spaces below. The same sink, when artificially lit, is intended to function as an internal fountain compounded of light and water. This rather theatrical preoccupation with transparency and glistening light effects is rein- forced by applying raw silk to the walls and by covering almost every exposed structural member with silver laminate. The metallic effect is echoed by an ingenious steel plate linking the main sitting room with the bedroom. Throughout the house, this brilliance is offset by continuous low-level seating upholstered in either black leather or beige velvet. The floors, where not transparent, are covered in grey carpet.

Despite these intriguing, partly cavernous, Soanesque effects, this house assumes a sublime aspect as it extends out toward a suspended terrace overlook- ing the river. Flanked by vertically fenestrated, continuous glazing on its southern elevation, the building becomes more unequivocally tectonic as it breaks out toward the water. With some justification Rudolph regards this spectacular view of the East River as having aristocratic dimensions, particularly on the Fourth of July when, as he puts it, Macy's annual fireworks display makes one feel like Louis XIV.


Frampton, Kenneth, American masterworks : the twentieth-century house, New York : Universe, 2002



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

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