by William Morgan with Peter Rose
Having a strong appreciation for the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Edgar and Clarissa Bronfman commissioned the firm of Peter Rose to design the gut renovation of a Manhattan townhouse in order to create a home with the appropriate atmosphere for their significant art collection.
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The townhouse, originally built in 1918 and converted into an eight-unit apartment building in the 1940s, was returned to its original use as a single-family residence. While maintaining the clients' strong desire for privacy in their day-to-day lives and the ability to entertain in a relatively formal manner, the new house would also have to accommodate a significant art collection, providing museum-quality environmental and lighting control.
Following the demolition of the 1940s apartment conversion, all that remained of the original townhouse was the limestone facade. This left the reconfiguration of space open to new organizing principles.
The house is designed around two vertically stacked courts. The upper court, open to the sky, provides a secluded outdoor garden around which the family spaces are arranged. The lower interior court, sky-lit from the upper court, contains the main stair and is the focus of the entry, dining room, living room, and library.
Asymmetrical in plan and split in section, this lower court offers diagonal views to the city and sky, bringing daylight into what is conventionally the darkest and most internalized portion of a New York City townhouse. A gentle atrium stair, with shallow rise-to-run ratio, allows easy ascent through the five main floors of the house.
The atrium stair is a complex piece of connective tissue that provides wide and narrow spaces, integrates wall art display and sculpture display with vertical and horizontal circulation, and deftly provides museum-quality sound and air control. Treads span nearly the whole atrium at the bottom, then recede to a graceful band along the wall, opening the atrium to the light above.
Choreography of the numerous elements was resolved by a simple and tireless commitment to drawing and redrawing, introducing incremental changes.
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This article is excerpted from Peter Rose: Houses by Peter Rose, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.
Peter Rose designed a major renovation of a 1918 townhouse on Manhattan's east side to create a new home for Edgar Bronfman, Jr., and Clarissa Bronfman.
Photo: Peter Vanderwarker
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The interior of the Bronfman Townhouse is organized around a large opening divided into two parts: a lower three-story interior atrium and an upper two-story exterior courtyard.
Photo: Michael Moran
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