In the studio the slight divisions of plaster and glazed glass can slide to reshape spaces
Overall view of the waiting room on the upper floor. The wall that divides the master bedroom and the bathroom from the living room is made of concrete. The furniture is made up of original pieces from the mid 20th century, hailing from a customer’s vast collection
A leaned ladder makes more intense the transition between the ground floor studio and the residential area on the upper floor
In the house, a huge glazed glass panel divides the shower threshold from the main bathroom
The kitchen opens up completely toward the waiting room and is spruced up with a counter partially perched on the projecting wall

In our architectural practice we strive for an elegant economy of means, both material and aesthetic. We thrive on the analytical rigor required to bring order to complex programmatic and technical problems. I am attracted to strategies that serve functional requirements and create spatial interest and meaning with the least possible architectonic gestures.

I am also dedicated to the proposition that minimalism need not be sterile or cold. A carefully chosen palette of materials, combining the humble and the luxurious, when thoughtfully deployed can provide as much warmth and pleasure as the psyche demands.

The streets of a city like New York deliver constant sensory stimulation, often to the level of assault, so one of the greatest luxuries for an urban dweller becomes the option of retreat to a serene interior, visually and aurally quiet for therapeutic effect. After a decade of architectural exhibitionism that mirrored the social and financial excesses of the affluent world at the turn of the century an architecture of restraint seems more appropriate and needed than ever; an aesthetic that, to me, can best represent a new ethic of responsible consumption of space and resources.

In designing a space for both living and working the architect faces the complex task of interpreting the distinct requirements of each function and integrating them into a single coherent composition. The central theme of the design of this live/work loft is the paradox of separation within unity. The client was an artist who also ran a foundation that provides art education to under-privileged children. He wanted to have his multi-functional studio connected to his home to accommodate his irregular work schedule, yet at the same time to allow total retreat to a separate and serene domestic zone. The project combined two spaces of 120 m2 each on the sixth and seventh floors of a former commercial building in lower Manhattan. The lower floor we developed as a flexible, utilitarian work zone with a public aspect while the upper floor is a highly personalized and private residence. An attenuated vertical connection between the two floors maintains the desired degree of separation, while a single restrained palette of forms and materials both unites and distinguishes the living and work zones.

To take advantage of the abundant light and sweeping views of City Hall Park and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, no partitions on the living level of the loft touch the exterior walls to interrupt the march of oversized windows. A single full-height partition, angled slightly in plan, cuts across the floor to conceal closets, bathroom and a small bedroom for the client’s daughter, who lives part time with him.

The kitchen, spare but highly functional, is open to the living area, with a countertop dramatically cantilevered from an exposed structural column. The master bedroom and bath are screened from the main living room by a concrete wall seven feet tall; an element of intimate human scale within the generous volume of the loft space. With a touch of risqué humor, the frosted glass panel that encloses the shower forms one wall of the entrance foyer, on the other side.

Downstairs on the studio level partitions of gypsum board, steel and glass roll on floor tracks to allow the space to be reconfigured into separate rooms, an exhibition gallery, or one open studio. A full bath and small kitchen make the studio self-sufficient. This level also contains a central mechanical room with sophisticated equipment to maintain a high level of air purity and temperature and humidity control. The pendant light fixtures in the studio were salvaged from a school designed in the 1940s by the architect William Lescaze. Throughout the loft, the clean, simple architecture is a perfect setting for the client’s distinguished collection of mid 20th Century modern furniture.

The loft interior is rendered in essentially five materials: white plaster, exposed concrete, maple wood, stainless steel and glass. Floors on the studio level are concrete; tough and washable, but meticulously polished like the finest marble terrazzo. On the living level concrete is reserved for the “wet” kitchen and bath areas and the rest of the floor is finished in more domestic-feeling wood. One species of wood, economical and ecologically renewable maple, is used for floor, cabinetry and doors. Hardware, plumbing fixtures and electrical devices are generic industrial products. The stainless steel toilet in the master bath shower room is a fixture designed for use in prisons. While my aesthetic is decidedly reductive, I assiduously avoid precious or hyper-rarefied design.

While there was ample room to install a conventional staircase between the two floors we chose to attenuate the connection by using a steep ship’s ladder. The ascent and descent are deliberately challenging, and this suited the client’s wishes perfectly. (In the public hall just outside the entry door are a conventional stair and handicapped accessible elevator.) He wanted the move between home and work to be a deliberate act of transition. While the physical distance is not great, the effort of the journey creates the desired psychological distance.