NYC brownstone whose second floor wall rolls up like a garage-door

Architect Bill Peterson renovated this 14th Street townhouse so that the living room wall rolled up like a garage, leaving it open to the street, with an "air curtain" to keep the heat in: "The hardware on the moving wall is custom, and McLaren Engineering Group, the firm Peterson eventually hired, also works for Cirque du Soleil. 'These guys were like magicians,' he says." The Wall Vanishes (via Cribcandy)

(Image: Stan Wan/New York)


  1. I hope the air curtain also keeps the noise and smells of the city OUT of their place. Lets also hope that no smartass decides to toss garbage into their place. Nah, can’t happen in NYC.

  2. An “air curtain?” What’s that? It doesn’t seem to mention it in the article.

    Anyway, very cool! Amazing that the zoning board approved of this. Did they..?

  3. I say this as someone who a)has never been to New York and b) lives in the middle of a cornfield ~700 feet off the road.

    Cool, but wow, not a lot of privacy there when that door is up, eh? Love the purple couch.

    1. Neeeew York is where I’d rather stay!
      I get allergic smelling hay.
      I just adore a fantass view,
      Darlin’ I love you but give me Park Avenue…

        1. doh! You’re correct. I misheard it as a kid and for decades thought it was “fantass”, as in “fantastic”. It is “penthouse view”.

  4. In reply to #1 – an air curtain is just that, a curtain of air that keeps bugs and the outside temperatures at bay by forcing air up or down an opening, such as a door or garage door.

    Maybe you’ve walked into a building where a blast of air blew down on you as you walked in… that’s an air curtain.

  5. There is no way that would pass inspection in most places. Almost all building codes require exterior balconies to have a railing that is at least 36″-48″ high, not easily climbable, and won’t let a 3.5″ object pass through. Even though it doesn’t extend from the building, I would consider that a balcony.

    1. In the article at the NYT, it does say there is a transparent glass barrier ~42″ high that keeps you from falling on your noggin out the space. It was very difficult to see in the photos.

    2. Zan, it has a 42″ glass safety fence, clearly noted in the article and shown twice in the slideshow.

      If you know what to look for, it’s visible in the BB post, too.

  6. This reminds me of these apartments, from “Play Time”:

    Which are a bit too much like “living in public” for me. I would not want to frighten the passers-by.

    But I like this NYC structure, very much. Imaginative architecture.

  7. If you go through the slide show, it explains the air curtain and also that there is an ultraclear glass barrier (I think it was 42″ high).

  8. If you turn down the lights (obviously the place is lit up in the photo to be seen) then it will not be so easy to see in there.

    Soot is always an issue with open windows in NYC. This looks fun, but they will either be doing a lot of dusting or more likely, be paying someone to do a lot of dusting.

  9. Much as I like the idea, this pic has obvously been photoshopped. There are lots of things wrong with the picture. For example, the casement windows shown in the picture must be a reflection from somewhere. Where?

    1. Read the article a bit more carefully and look at the slideshow. The casement windows are not reflections; they are real. They are in the front wall, which rolls up like a garage door to sit against the ceiling.

  10. This is cute, but it seems more like a showcase for a real estate market that does not exist in NYC anymore than anything else. If you click through the slideshow you can see they even have a bedroom setup with a huge framed t-shirt from the Fillmore East up over the bed. That’s just too precious and self-conscious for my tastes. All very meta and not connected to now.

    But that said, I do like the idea of a retractable facade. What about doing that for a ground level business? So you can change the configuration based on what you are doing?

  11. This is a strange location for something like this. 14th Street is a very busy four-lane thoroughfare with hundreds of buses and trucks passing by every day. I could see something like this if you had a view of something other than a bunch of uninspired small businesses (spin around to see the wall closed and unlit).

    As is, I guess it’s more about proof-of-concept than actual living enjoyment, not that there’s anything wrong with that….

    I’m definitely going to pay more attention whenever I take the bus by there from now on in the hopes of someday seeing it open.

  12. It’s a nice effort, but lacking in one crucial detail: when the wall goes up, a disco ball should come down. Without that, what is the point?

  13. it’s a beautiful piece of design, but I remember when I lived on 14th street and left my window open on a hot summer day and came back to find my bedsheets black with soot two feet in from the window.

  14. I’ve gotta say, I’ve lived across the street from this building for a year now had no idea that it did that.

    It has never, ever been opened.

    1. That’s a telling statement.

      I used to live in a home designed by famous architects, who got awards for the design. I have a different opinion of their talents.

      I think architectural students should have to go to an annual symposium where people who’ve lived and/or worked in famous designers’ creations will tell them what it’s really like on a day-to-day basis.

  15. The sad part to me is looking at the before and after shots of the interior. Look at how much character was present in the space to begin with, and how bland and homogenized it looks once done. So much drywall where there used to be fantastic rough brick. Especially the bedroom with those fantastic joists and high ceiling.

    The lifting wall is neat, I can’t argue with that. The view seems fine to me, Micah – you’re not going to get a penthouse view for even this much money in NYC.

    I am glad they fixed up what was a rather shabby building. But the first floor facade isn’t exactly lovely in the streetview – might be better in person.

  16. Antonius (#20) points to the seismic issue (or lack thereof). But seismic isn’t the only lateral load! When thinking about building structures, most people think about resisting only gravity loads. But there are also lateral (side to side) loads. In an earthquake zone, seismic loads are the most important, but on a coastal island like Manhattan, wind loads are probably more important.

    “But,” you say, “this is a row house, flanked on both sides by other buildings. The wind can never blow on the sides of that tall, skinny building!” I don’t know the specific code approach in NY, but here in Chicago, we are SUPPOSED to design as though the individual building was free-standing with no other buildings around it. Don’t think that’s ever going to happen? I’m still dealing with permitting of a rehab of the last standing unit of what was once a row of beautiful 1870s row houses. It’s 4 1/2 stories tall and 19′ wide, flanked by vacant lots on either side where the rest of the row house units used to stand. Yes, buildings that are today flanked by other buildings DO end up standing alone, amidst vacant lots and exposed to wind loads.

    “But,” you say, “it’s not like wind loads are a big deal. So what if there is a giant hole in the face of that building relatively near the base?” Without getting into lots of building code details, let’s simply say that we’re assuming that local winds push on buildings to the tune of about 40 lbs per square foot. How bad could that be? Well, if the building is 60′ tall and 80′ from front to back, then that’s 4,800 sq. ft. of area. At 40psi, that’s a force of 192,000 lbs, or 96 tons trying to push the building over. Yeah, that’s a lot of force. A solid (with window openings), thick masonry facade can resist that kind of force, but this hole in the building probably can’t. Old buildings weren’t generally built to have “moment resisting frames” like steel frame buildings in earthquake zones do today. They’re more like a house of cards. The individual components are strong enough, but they’re just stacked one on the other, without any “glue” at the connections. Think about how weak a house of cards is when you push on the side…

    Sure, it’s theoretically possible that they tore off the lower facade of this building and put in an insanely beefy steel moment resisting frame, and re-worked the foundation to deal with the “overturning” loads. Yep, as a tall, skinny “lever” this building could actually try to pull itself up out of the ground on the windward side.

    Note that I’m not getting into the internal air pressure issues that occur with the “what if this is left open, or blows off its tracks during a storm/hurricane?” question. (Hint: wind blows into the hole, pressurizes the interior of the building and pops lots of windows out, so the glass can rain down on the street below.)

    Hey, sorry to be Debbie Downer. It really is great that someone made the effort to do something “cool” and “different.” I just suspect that it was more of an “interior designer” kind of thought process, and that no one at the NY Building Department really thought through what was being done when they issued the permits.

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