Fishers Island House / Thomas Phifer and Partners

© Scott Frances

Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners
Location: Fishers Island, New York,
Managing Partner: Thomas Phifer AIA
Project Partner: Donald Cox AIA
Project Architect: Andrew Mazor
Collaborators: Adam Ruffin, Eric Richey, Jonathan Benner, Lisa Tilney, Rebecca Emmons
Structural Engineer: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Mechanical Engineers: Ambrisino, DePinto&Schmieder
Lighting Designer: Office for Visual Interaction
Metal Canopy: Allen Architectural Metals
General Contractor: BD Remodeling & Restoration
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Scott Frances

Meandering gardens and woods, sparked with daffodils, peonies and daylilies, flank the straight drive in. Up ahead near the path’s end is an aperture framed by an arbor of apple trees, capturing an elemental view of sky and water: the horizon of the Long Island Sound. As you reach closer range, you suddenly realize you have been looking not merely through foliage, but also right through the house.

floor plan

Just behind the copse stands a delicately transparent pavilion. Its light-filtering trellis—a horizontal tracery of slender aluminum rods extending the roof plane—aligns with the canopy of trees before it. Woven into the landscape, this is an architecture of subtlety, a precisely grounded yet quasi-weightless structure, an ethereal rectangle, planted between two existing woods. Like feathery fronds, the trellis reaches toward the bordering leafy branches, while the pavilion’s interior floor plane—fully visible through the glassy, Miesian shell—continues outward, its surface of ebonized bamboo transformed into an exterior plinth of Indian black granite, a walkway, finely striated with shadows from the diaphanous, metal canopy above.

© Scott Frances

Meanwhile, the entry axis penetrates the pavilion’s simple 4,600-square-foot volume, notching into its far side and emerging as a long, miraculously shallow reflecting pool, incising the lawn with a silvery film, its distant edge dissolving optically into the Sound.

A perimeter path lines the structure’s transparent shell. Freestanding in parallel alignment, the interior walls never meet the enclosure. Instead, they form a virtual box within a box, an implied inner volume. These parallel planes channel long vistas out toward water and garden, only allowing the seascape’s wide, rugged panorama to emerge in full view at the house’s far side.

© Scott Frances

More than a one-bedroom retreat for a former museum director and his wife, this is also a place of extraordinary 20th century paintings, sculptures, and glassware—much of it conveying a sense of buoyancy or levitation that echoes the pavilion’s lightness. The artwork always figures into view out, even if only peripherally. Conversely, from the gardens, this colorful indoor collection projects a presence outdoors.

In the animated interplay between landscape and art, in the shifting ambiguities between inside and out, the design achieves exceptional balance. An arcing swath of vibrant yellow sedum in the garden resonates with the golden footbridge in a Chinese screen inside; a mossy rock garden projects into the pavilion’s simple volume, while the bedroom nestles into a private apse of garden vegetation. You can look straight through the house without realizing it, but you could also mistake reflections of trees for glimpses through the pavilion. Morphing with the skies, flourishing seasonally, the dialogue evolves, nourishing the owner’s desire to live in the garden—with art.

Cite: "Fishers Island House / Thomas Phifer and Partners" 19 Sep 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • up_today_arch

    Couple of openings in the ceilings alsow very interesting. But I can not see them in more detaile.

  • chm23

    looks like an elongated version of the Brochstein pavilion

    • Dan

      Ditto…its just like the Brochstein pavilion at Rice University.

  • sdf

    although its very beutiful and fresh there is some kind of visual noise

  • ASphere


    hope that they’ve no neighbor

  • SPG

    @sdf- Perhaps the visual noise comes from a tension created by the abundance of objects which are housed within this beautiful structure. A paring back would, in my opinion, greatly enhance the reading of the complex angles that shift and change across the light filtering trellis throughout the passing day.The photo of the sparse kitchen supports this idea. I think the owners might possess a few too many beautiful things and cannot resist the temptation to put them all on display at the same time. Careful editing and rotation are key components for any successful gallery (or museum).

  • EngiNERD

    Please be advised the project is up for a structural engineering award from