Paul Rudolph Penthouse
Della Valle Bernheimer's thoughtful renovation of the Paul Rudolph Penthouse in New York rises from his original intentions
New York City
This could be called one of the toughest renovation jobs imaginable. Actually, it’s the most recent and most extensive revamping of one of Paul Rudolph’s best works––his own penthouse on New York’s Beekman Place, which he started in 1978. The architects, Jared Della Valle, AIA, and Andrew Bernheimer, AIA, hesitated telling friends they were working on this iteration, completed in 2006, until they could be sure it was turning out as hoped. It has. While Della Valle Bernheimer’s rendition presents a muter, sparer version of the original, the architectonic essence is very much intact.
The Boyds transformed the basically four levels of Rudolph’s penthouse plus the floors below it into a house museum of sorts. It attempted to offer a sympathetic testament to Rudolph’s vision, while displaying a substantial collection of 20th-century Modern furniture and artworks. But the Boyds did make changes. They stripped off the chromed laminate Rudolph had applied to steel beams and columns to match the gleam of stainless steel in the floor, and they put Sheetrock under the clear tub that hung above the entry and part of the kitchen. To keep visitors (and residents) from suffering vertigo, they partially enclosed the sides of the floating stairs with vertical white-frosted-acrylic panels, and replaced the clear acrylic floors of the bridges with a translucent version. Many of the reflective and transparent planes and lines disappeared into a more ascetic white, albeit still Constructivist environment. But then the Boyds moved to California, and the building changed hands. The current owner, with his own architect, was half way through redesigning the penthouse apartment for his use, when he felt the need for an architectural firm more in tune with Rudolph’s vision. He consulted Corey Ward, president of CW Contractors, who advised him to take a chance on the 11-year-old firm Della Valle Bernheimer.
Knowing that an idiosyncratic house is best suited to the architect who created it, Della Valle Bernheimer and Ward worked hand in hand to modify the spaces for the present owner’s needs while saving as much of Rudolph’s concept as possible. With regard to the original design intentions, Jared Della Valle notes that “Rudolph viewed the apartment as an ongoing experiment,” an observation also made by others familiar with its many early incarnations. So rather than worrying about returning to one authentic moment, the architects decided it was simply best to attempt a reinterpretation based on the architect’s spatial concepts, choice of materials, and design elements.
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