Millbrook House / Thomas Phifer and Partners

© Scott Frances

Architect: Thomas Phifer
Location: Millbrook, NY, USA
Project Manager: Stephen Dayton
Project Architect: Andrew Mazor
Project Team: Len Lopate, Joseph Sevene, Andrew Deibel
Structural Engineering: Weidlinger Associates, Inc.
Lighting Designer: Fisher Marantz Stone
General Contractor: Robert Bump Construction
Project Area: 6,600 sq ft
Project Year: 2010
Photographs: Scott Frances

The journey of arrival at the Millbrook House is an unhurried ascent, focused on experiencing and re-experiencing the land. On this 200-acre site, an architecture of discrete geometric objects set within a heroic landscape choreographs the route, mediating an unfolding sequence of thresholds and views. Up a rambling drive, through a forest to a small, gravel car park, the approach shifts to a footpath, rising along a hill’s ridge. In spirit, the progression recalls the seemingly meandering, yet deftly orchestrated path to an Ancient Greek temple, engaging the visitor with a landscape held even more sacred than the building itself.

© Scott Frances

At Millbrook, the first glimpse of built form is a cantilevered, weathering- box, the guesthouse, hovering over an edge of the car park. Deep red, patinated panels form a retaining wall, extending from beneath the studio straight up hill, rising with the regular rhythm of metal plates beside bluestone treads, set into the slope like stepping stones on a pool of water.

floor plans

The ascent reaches the hill’s crest, a grassy promontory, flanked by a rectangular glass pavilion along one side and, on the opposite edge, a series of four low, mahogany-sheathed volumes—as pure and distilled in their geometric repetition as a Minimalist sculpture. This arrangement around the clearing frames long, perspectival views of the Hudson Valley, reminiscent of the vista-capturing gestures of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia and Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute.

The glass pavilion at Millbrook sits so lightly and with such transparency that its floor seems to flow uninterrupted from the surrounding carpet of lawn. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, into the living-dining-kitchen space, full panoramic views open up, dramatically and in all directions.

© Scott Frances

This clear volume plays against the -clad monoliths, windowless from the approach, their opaque, mahogany shells echoing the rich, earthy hues of the weathered steel. Though seemingly freestanding, the pavilion and its counterparts all connect indoors, beneath the grassy precinct. Each mahogany box, partially embedded in the sloping terrain, forms a private cabin for sleeping and bathing, entered one level below the glass pavilion. As if emerging from the earth, these high-ceilinged cabins have an intimate rapport with the landscape. In counterpoint to the visually expansive hilltop perch, they open only eastward, to the morning sun, each to its own bamboo garden and the meadows beyond.

© Scott Frances

Your perception of the house and site evolve: not simply as you cross the land, but also as you move through the interior, from grand communal to quieter private zones. Outside, the experience crescendos as you crest the hill and step across the high lawn. But only when you venture into the glass pavilion does the journey reach its climax, from contained space opening to the vastness of the landscape.

Cite: "Millbrook House / Thomas Phifer and Partners" 26 Sep 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • dang

    riff on RCR’s casa rural?!?


      listen dang! just because a project has several monolithic pieces all facing the same direction and coreten steel on the side does not make it a riff on another project that looks the same. its not like these guys were like “OH i have no idea what to do here let me flip through an RCR el croquis OH look casa rural lets do exactly what they did”

      …WRONG !

      …WRONG !

      those pieces are not even the main part of the house and could it just so happen that there are 2 projects in the world influenced by similar site forces??

    • Kris

      Clearly a riff on Fay Jones. I mean, look how they used WOOD!

      Seriously, materials do not make a copy. And Precedent is not a four-letter word. If anything, architecture which has some footing in precedent makes it more intriguing….more so than the wadded up Kleenex wrought by soulless parametric exercises.

  • dang

    um, RCR’s casa rural?

  • up_today_arch

    Nice puristic architecture… Maybe examples exist… But this is good project

  • adruff

    plus phifer designed that house in 1999. its been complete since 2002. just sayin. maybe the riff went the other way?

  • langer

    come on dang…your comment is at best ill informed and off base. go back to bed, now.

  • CopyPaste

    serious, the first thing that came to my mind as i saw this was “oh, i did see this before.” Couple of Cortenboxes on Green facing down a hill.
    Come on.