Crowning Achievement: 10 Pioneering Penthouses

Luke Barley Luke Barley

Robin Venturi once said that “less is a bore.” Well, in New York City less is plainly not as profitable as more. Developers and architects have taken to pushing against space limits placed on projects by landmark or historical status. One way they do this is by crowning existing buildings with penthouse additions—a trend that has exploded as of late, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Of course, these additions instantly become the most exclusive and expensive part of the development due to the views and sunlight afforded to the top floor. But they also give architects the chance to make a heroic, dramatic statement. Take Shigeru Ban’s recent proposal for a two-story white-metal glass cantilevered addition to the 132-year-old Cast Iron House in downtown Manhattan, which was unanimously approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

A rendering of Shigeru Ban’s penthouse addition to the Cast Iron House. Photo: Hayes Davidson via The New York Times

This practice of placing a building on top of a building takes place all over the world. Sometimes these projects become memes, as was the case for a literal mountain home built on top of an apartment building in China:

Image via The Daily Mail.

The story of how a connected Chinese government official built the home over six years bounced around the Internet for a few weeks. And why not? The images are pretty incredible. In fact, the juxtaposition of new and old in these projects is stunning no matter the level of contrast.

This is the type of architecture that leads to virtual rubbernecking. However, serious architects have also looked at the seeming limit of the roof and pushed right through, extending their design vision. Paul Rudolph, modernist pioneer, kept a legendary townhouse in Manhattan, which, while Georgian on the exterior, was topped with modernist experiments. The glass stairs with no railings even made their way into popular culture through a cameo role in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Here, we’ve gathered 10 other drool-worthy townhouses, all from the Architizer database.

23 Beekman Placeby Bernheimer Architecture, New York City, US

“Built in 1978 as the architect’s own residence, Paul Rudolph’s penthouse apartment is an icon for his distinctive ideas about form, materials and lifestyle,” explain architects Bernheimer Architecture on their update on Rudolph’s former home. “Until his death in 1997, Rudolph maintained the apartment as an ongoing experiment.”

Rooftop Remodellingby Coop Himmelb(l)au, Wien, Austria

The design of this renovation increased the office space of the law firm that is housed in the building, adding a unique accent to the traditional construction.

Rooftop MH1 by Zeytinoglu Architects, Vienna, Austria

This penthouse’s full length ribbon windows give its lucky residents a chance to survey the surrounding views of Vienna.

Out Of Sightby Spaced Out Architecture Studio, London, GB

Adding an extra room to the top of this London maisonette allowed the inhabitants to expand their family without moving. Reflective stainless steel was used for cladding the facade allowing the volume of the construction to dissolve against the sky.

Bondi Penthouseby MHN Design Union, Sydney, Australia

The penthouse perched on top of this traditional building was “a formal gesture,” explain the architects, “an exercise of delineating between old and new respectfully.”

Notting Hill Penthouseby Studio RHE, London

These two mansion blocks are part of the same project, which incorporates a sky bridge connecting the disparate volumes.

Penthouse auf dem Hochbunkerby Amort Architektur, Hamm Westfalen, Germany

Planted on top of a bunker, this penthouse treats the existing structure as an elevated urban building site.

NIB – luxury penthouseby AllesWirdGut, Vienna, Austria

The architects of this project call it a “Lamborghini with a view,” as the luxe windows provide a 360 degree view of the surrounding urban landscape.

River View Penthouseby Carol Maryan Architects, PC, New York City, US

While not the best place to try to sleep off a hangover or a late night, this amazing jewel of a bedroom provides full immersion into the natural environment.

Renovation and heightening Margaretenstraße 9by Josef Weichenberger architects + Partner, Vienna, Austria

The pre-existing building, according to the architects, is from “Wilhelminian-times,” which means that at the very least, the structure survived World War II. The renovation added four new apartments to the building.