Architects Michael Manfredi and Marion Weiss, partners at New York firm Weiss/Manfredi, have long been merging landscape and structure in their work, including the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle (2007) and the visitor center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (2012). In these projects, the architecture becomes part of the site and the site part of the architecture, so that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.Additional Information:
Now they have explored this theme in their first ground-up residential project, a rustic but modern house in Tuxedo Park, New York, about 40 miles northwest of Manhattan. Established in the 1880s as a private hunting and fishing reserve, the village was a popular retreat for New York’s elite through the 1920s, with many stately houses designed by prominent late-19th- and early-20th-century architects, including Bruce Price, McKim, Mead & White, and John Russell Pope. Tuxedo Park (which gave the name to the gentleman’s formal attire) is also noted for its distinctive craggy landscape, with dense woods and winding roads.
For more than three decades, Joseph McCann, a PepsiCo executive, and his wife, Anne, a graphic artist and passionate gardener, spent their weekends in a Tuxedo Park carriage house, which Manfredi and Weiss renovated for them in the late 1980s. But the McCanns, now retired, wanted a house comfortable for more extended periods, with room for guests, and conveniences such as air-conditioning. So they bought the adjacent three-acre lot and again turned to Manfredi and Weiss.
The new site is steeply sloped, with two enormous rock outcroppings, and—when the trees drop their leaves—stunning views of Tuxedo Lake. There was already a house there—a dilapidated 1960s structure, which the architects describe as a “faux ski lodge” that seemed “dropped onto the site rather than of it.” Not surprisingly, the clients had something entirely different in mind that would be contemporary and “right next to nature,” explains Joe.
The architects proposed replacing the existing house with a series of retaining walls made of local fieldstone. These ashlar walls would appear to march up the terrain, outlining a serpentine approach. They would also define the house’s lower two levels, which were to be built entirely within the footprint of the existing foundations, enclosing a guest bedroom and library, among other spaces. A steel-and-woodframed third level, mostly invisible from the road except for a clerestory and a portion of overhanging roof, would sit behind the house’s primary stone facade. This top floor—to contain the living room, dining area, kitchen, and the master bedroom—was to curve in sync with the contours of the giant boulders. It would include a long window wall facing east, overlooking a terraced garden.
Before construction could begin, the scheme needed the go-ahead from the local architectural review board. The process took more than a year, but Manfredi and Weiss finally convinced the board that, though their design did not hew to the favored Tudor, Georgian, or Shingle styles, it was in keeping with Tuxedo Park’s character.
As with the turn-of-the-century villas and cottages, their design took its cues from the surrounding landscape, its stone walls similar to those found along the village’s roads and on many of its historic houses. In addition to “metering the topography,” said the architects, the walls would help control water runoff from the steep slopes of the site.
In the finished house, this relationship with the terrain is most apparent on the top level, reached via a stair with a glass balustrade or by elevator. It reads as one long, curvilinear open space, sheltered under a seemingly floating king-post-truss-supported roof. The more private areas—the kitchen, bath, and master bedroom—are lined up, hidden behind an origami-like drywall partition that stops a few inches short of the bottom chord of the roof truss.
But the living and dining spaces flow into each other, with their polished concrete floors stepping up a few risers between them. This change in elevation matches that of the adjacent terraced garden, seen and easily accessed through sets of double glass doors integrated into the arced steel-framed eastern window wall. The more solid, west-facing exterior wall has a clerestory, which helps reinforce the impression that the roof is floating, and also contains small windows that offer framed vistas over the McCanns’ carriage-house property. These strategies, which put the focus on the outside, are so effective that when you are on the top floor, the rest of the almost 5,000- square-foot house all but disappears, making this level seem like a small pavilion in the landscape.
The McCanns are helping to fuse the site and structure by building a narrow pathway into the slope behind the house that echoes the terraces of the garden below. They have also planted nearly 50 trees, including oaks and Eastern white pines, and are experimenting with shrubs and ground covers such as heather, thyme, and witch hazel. They want, says Joe, “something that looks natural but is also artful.” Those words could describe the house as well, which skillfully merges with the landscape to create what the architects like to call a “habitable topography.”
Architecture / Landscape / Urbanism
200 Hudson St 10th Floor
New York Ny 10013
T 212 760 9002
F 212 760 9003
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Marion Weiss, FAIA, Design Partner
Michael A. Manfredi, FAIA, Design Partner
Michael Blasberg, RA, Project Architect
Lee Lim, Project Architect
Hamilton Hadden, RA, Project Architect
Michael DeCandia Architects
130 West 29th Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10001
T: 914-232-8210 (Katonah)
F: 914-232-2633 (Katonah)
Michael DeCandia, Principal
John Cuniffe, Project Architect
Thomas W. Skrable, PE
65 Ramapo Valley Rd, suite 13
Mahwah, NJ 07430
Brandston Partnership Inc.
302 Fifth Avenue, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Chou Lien, Partner
Structural (Roof) Consultant
Weidlinger Associates Inc. Consulting Engineers
40 Wall Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10005-1304
Cowley Engineering, P.C.
4093 Jockey Street
Charlton, NY 12019
Longeri Construction Corp
14 Jacksonville Rd
Towaco, NJ 07082
Albert Večerka/Esto, Jeff Goldberg
Joseph and Anne McCann
4,800 square feet
Roof: Composite Steel and Glulam Truss on Steel Columns
Wall: Concrete Bearing Exterior Wall
Floor: Concrete Slab on grade (basement), Wood Flooring on Engineered Wood Joists (1st Floor), Concrete Slab on Steel Deck (2nd floor)
Fieldstone provided by:
Legacy Stoneworks, Inc
PO Box 832
Tuxedo Park, NY 10987
84 Hopkins Avenue
Jamestown, NY 14702
Locksets and Hinges: Schalge, Rixon, Rockwood
Pulls: Custom Pull by Veyko Design
Perforated Bronze Screens and Exterior Gates by
216 Falmouth Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19123
20 Englewood Ave
Staten Island, NY 10309
1000 Bega Way
Carpinteria, CA 93013
215 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
535 West 24th Street
York, NY 10011
2345 Vauxhall Rd
Union, NJ 07083
20 Englewood Ave
Staten Island, NY 10309
Kohler, Dornbracht, Elkay, Agape, Miele, Toto