The Long Island Residence / Tod Williams + Billie Tsien

© Michael Moran

Stretched upon three acres of land in the Hamptons in Long Island, New York, the Long Island Residence by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien is a quiet, serene home that blends in with the tranquility of nature that surrounds it. Also known as the Rifkind residence, Williams and Tsien designed the house for clients Robert, a lawyer, and Arleen Rifkind, a pharmacolegy professor, and their children. Due to their busy city lives in Manhatten, the Rifkinds wanted a weekend retreat where they could go with family and friends to relax and embrace the outdoors. Therefore the solution, in the words of Williams and Tsien, was “a house that is marked by quiet serenity, openess to the landscape, and a sense of spaciousness without monumentality.”

More on the Long Island Residence after the break.

Maintaining the request of the clients, the Long Island Residence was designed to preserve the black pines surrounding it and to overlook the Georgica Pond and ocean. Lying on 3700 square feet of land, the house was designed and built between 1996-1998. The residence consists of four rectangular volumes connected with glass passageways, in which three of these volumes distribute the program and the fourth is a planting shed.

© Michael Moran

The central pavilion contains the public spaces and the main entrance, which is approached by walking. Here, due to a clerestory in the living room which accomodates a reading loft and outdoor balcony, is where the house reaches it’s maximum ceiling height of fourteen feet. The remainder of the house has a floor-to-ceiling height of only ten feet, which allows for the house to expand outwards horizontally. Connecting to the west of the central pavilion is the master bedroom and study, and to the east is the guest wing which contains three bedrooms, both volumes that consist of private spaces.


One of the ways Williams and Tsien incorporated the concept of “spaciousness without monumentality” in the Rifkind residence is through the many windows on the exterior of the house. These glass openings provide a visual connection between the interior and exterior and as Arleen Rifkind stated, “It gives you a sense of walking past a Japanese scroll painting that goes on forever.” The many glass doors and windows, some of which extend from the floor to the ceiling, were placed on every side of the building, allowing for a plethora of sunlight to constantly enter the residence. The design of the house allows for the guest wing of the house to get the strongest morning sun, whereas the west wing has the closest view of the sunset, and the three main pavilions can be seen as representing the three most distinct changes of the sun throughout the day.

© Michael Moran

The placement of these windows are based around the program of the house, which also determines the sizes of the windows. Public spaces, such as the central pavilion, tend to have more windows in the residence, and private spaces have smaller and fewer windows. The placement of windows also became very important aspect to consider when designing the house because it is not air-conditioned. Instead the windows were located to provide cross breezes.

© Michael Moran

When placed in their particular locations, the windows create a solid/void scheme throughout the house. Where the windows are located and there are less walls, the area becomes more void. This also happens to be where the people are more likely to gather, or a public space. Where people are less likely to gather there tend to be more walls, creating solid spaces. The exterior of the house and its relationship with the site also follows this pattern, for solids and voids are created on the site depending where the four rectilinear masses are placed. For instance, because of the location of the planting shed, a big void is created where the main entrance is, framing the entrance in a more dramatic way rather than if the planting shed were located on the backside of the residence.

© Michael Moran

Because the house contained so much glass, not many walls are load bearing, so the architects created a solution that consisted using long timber beams where a ring beam rested on bearing walls or columns for structural support. In the living room, which is taller than the rest of the house, this same structure has steel columns that support the roof.

© Michael Moran

The materials used to build the house and create the structure were also taken into careful consideration so that the house would fit into its natural surroundings. They used Douglas fir panels for the exterior walls, bluestone for the floors of the hall, dining area, kitchen and living room, which matches that of the terrace and the chimney, and cherrywood for the staircase and library.

Even though the Long Island Residence is not necessarily a brand new architectural idea, Williams and Tsien managed to design a home that blended in with the tranquility of the site so well that it even won the NYC AIA Design Award and the National AIA Honors Award. The Long Island Residence becomes part of the land, and even more importantly, captures the beauty of the natural site into an experience within the house itself.

© Michael Moran

Architects: Tod Williams+Billie Tsien Location: Wainscott, NY Project Year: 1996-1998 Photographs: Tod Williams+Billie Tsien Michael Moran and References: Tod Williams+Billie Tsien and Williams, Tod and Tsien, Billie. Work Life. 2002. and Suzanne, Stephens. “A spare and serene Long Island retreat by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien refines a class Modernist paradigm.” Architectural Record June 1999.

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Cite: Adelyn Perez. "The Long Island Residence / Tod Williams + Billie Tsien" 19 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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