Shigeru Ban’s Metal Shutter Houses
Nestled among a group of high style buildings that clearly have star quality, namely Gehry’s IAC building and Nouvel’s Vision Machine, the Metal Shutter Houses by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is hardly noticeable. And that is precisely the point. Ban designed the eleven-storey luxury residential building to blend seamlessly into its neighbourhood, a former industrial area of West Chelsea that is now a thriving arts districts and ground zero for experimental architecture in New York City.
Taking his cue from the roll-down metal security screens once prevalent in the district, Ban applied the idea of a versatile changing façade to this upscale residential project with remarkable results, enclosing the building’s street facade with a diaphanous perforated metal skin that can be raised and lowered at whim to close off the living space from the city entirely all the while maintaining a good deal of transparency that allows light to penetrate the living spaces and affords residents views to the outdoors.
On the building’s south façade, which faces the garden, Ban has similarly responded with a façade of enormous bi-fold glass doors that can be opened with the touch of a button thus allowing the inhabitants to live ‘en plein air’. This blurring between indoor and outdoor space that is clearly at work here is a subject that has long interested this architect. According to Ban ‘there is something inevitably compelling between the inside and out’. Ban believes that the interstitial moment between breathing in the world and maintaining a feeling of ‘shelter’ is understood by all, which is why he employs the concept of a ‘universal floor’ in many of his projects, as he does here in the Metal Shutter Houses. Each of the units can be configured in a number of ways, through the use of pivoting glass walls and sliding glass doors that gives the inhabitants the option to create one vast loft-like open space - a universal floor - or to partition the living space into a series of rooms.
For the inhabitants, Ban’s Metal Shutter Houses represents an architecture of possibilities, providing the utmost flexibility to transform their space as needed. For architects, it is a building that takes up an important theme of the early Modernists - the search for universal space, as espoused by such luminaries as Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe with whom Ban’s work shares great affinity. Ban, like Mies, is interested in new materials, a spareness of expression, and the free plan. He makes such works as the Metal Shutter Houses clearly his own, by contextualising his buildings to the circumstances of their making, which is why he is perhaps one of the more visionary architects practicing today.
It’s not too late to get on the Shigeru ‘Ban-Wagon’. While most of the building’s units were presold, the penthouse is still available for a cool $12.95m, which, at $3,901 per square foot, makes it one of the more expensive residences on the market in Downtown New York.