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A 13th-floor terrace becomes a floating, geometric sculpture
Outdoor terraces are a special thing in New York City, but often the best thing about them is the view. Such was the case with one 13th-floor outdoor space in Harlem with a bird’s eye view of Central Park. “It was one of the standard, banal roof terraces with concrete pavers and a stucco knee wall as a railing,” remembers Gisue Hariri. “But it had fabulous views.” The apartment’s owner is a modern art collector, and he asked the dynamic team of Hariri & Hariri if they could create a design that would not only provide the necessities—seating, shading, and landscaping—but also act as another piece of art in his collection. “The minute I heard the challenge, I became interested in taking the project,” says Hariri.
At 522 square feet, the 18-by-29-foot terrace is larger than many Manhattan apartments. Oriented south to capture city views, it also took the full force of the city’s sun and glare. The low railing continued to the west side, leaving little privacy from neighbors with an adjoining terrace.
Inspired by the concept of nature in an urban setting, the Hariri & Hariri team continued its exploration of crystals, folds, and fractal geometry, the hallmarks of their work to date. Using Rhino and AutoCAD, they created a 3-D model of the terrace, then began to sculpt it.
“Normally, we make an actual model and then go to a 3-D model,” says Hariri. “In this case, we began simultaneously with the two because the angles and the way were approaching it was very challenging.”
From the 3-D model, the team began to create extensive detail drawings of each terrace section in order to convey to their contractor and carpenter, J&J Johnson Co., how to build it. Johnson did not have CNC machines, so the designers ran construction like a design-build project, meeting the fabrication team onsite to establish the points of the structure’s geometry and ensure each piece fit properly. “Technology was used mainly for communication and not for fabrication,” says Hariri. “The lines of the structure and how they would continue were a nightmare in geometry, but we got the best resolution possible.”
Because structural attachment to the building was prohibited, the entire assemblage floats above the existing concrete terrace, much like a stage. The terrace is designed to be disassembled in sections should it ever need to be moved, but it was built on site due to the constraints of doorways and elevators in the building.
Ipe wood was an ideal material choice, known for its sustainability and natural durability and mold resistance. The wooden floor plane, made of prefabricated sections that can be removed for maintenance, continues vertically to become a trellised dining area. Along the railing, the wood folds in on itself to become seating and planter boxes with integrated lighting beneath. Whether sitting or lying down, visitors see the surrounding city views in a rich timber frame. “It’s as if you have cut a picture and put it along the wall,” says Hariri. “It’s a feeling of having a miniature model of Manhattan right there.”