Screening for attention

Monday 23 May 2011

Metal scrim enlivens New York apartments

In architectural parlance, one of the biggest bangs for the buck (and a sure fire way to give an ordinary building instant curb appeal) is to wrap it with an architectural metal screen. These specialty items, once used primarily to mask roof top HVAC units and screen cars in parking decks, are now cropping up on the facades of high-styles buildings, from SANAA’s New Museum to Thom Mayne’s new academic building at the Cooper Union.

The appeal is obvious. With a couple of swoops and curves these screens can radically transform a building’s appearance. And when used as a full metal jacket, they can dress up even the dowdiest structure readying it for a red carpet debut. In Manhattan alone, there are many buildings that incorporate such screens to varying degrees and with varying success. The latest of these is 208 West 96th Street Residences; a new ten storey luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Designed by Arctangent Architecture + Design in collaboration with David Hu Architect, 208 West 96th Street Residences houses nine full-floor apartments intended to evoke the feel of a downtown loft. Each three bedroom, three bath home has an open plan and warm finishes throughout, floor to ceiling windows and a Juliet balcony. But the building’s defining feature is a playful metal façade that both conceals and reveals.

Designed in a dot pattern and changing character throughout the day in response to different lighting conditions, this screen gently undulates across the building’s façade before terminating to form private balconies for each apartment. While the screen provides privacy, sun control and frames views to and from the building, as an overall gesture it goes a long way toward imparting a sense of dynamism and interest to this otherwise flat structure.

Having a distinctive identity is an important quality for any residential property, particularly in this market where there are tonnes to choose from. While such elements as exterior metal facades can achieve this end, too much of a good thing can be bad for everyone. There’s a fine line between architectural distinction and distraction. When in doubt scrimp on the scrim.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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