Penthouses embody how form is following finance. As their own sector of the luxury real estate market, these spaces are often reserved for the richest clients and investors. From heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post's iconic 54-room mansion in the sky, to top-floor units in mid-rise developments, penthouse designs have been continuously reimagined to take architecture and interior design to new heights.
The idea of a penthouse apartment, especially in skyscraper design, dates back to the 1920s. Economic growth fueled a construction boom in New York as people moved to the city. At the time, building rooftops were usually reserved for tight servant's quarters, as well as maintenance and utility systems. As buildings grew taller, residents desired access to light and views, and they began illegally subletting these spaces. In 1925, the city legalized penthouse living, and apartments have become increasingly more extravagant ever since. The following projects showcase how penthouse architecture is tied to views, luxury and wealth.
This residential development consists of a complete gut renovation and new construction behind one of New York’s oldest cast-iron facades. It required a careful approach to the blending of contemporary architecture with historic preservation. Tracing the cone of vision from the furthest point from which the building was visible, WORKac utilized three rooftop projections to mask the bulk of an addition.
The PANO Penthouse is at the 53th floor of a high-end residential tower in Bangkok, and it is the fourth highest apartment in Thailand. The team designed the penthouse under the concept of “living between the city and the nature”, offering a modern lifestyle balancing relaxation with panoramic views towards the historic Chao Phraya River.
The driving concept for this project was to create the 'missing garden' at the top of the existing housing block in association with three new penthouses. That way, all residents gain access to an actual outdoor garden. JDSA looked at the Copenhagen gardens, which characteristically have an associated functionality. In turn, the rooftop garden is designed as a space of functions and an associated materiality.
Rethinking the notion of an urban garden, this project introduces a dynamic ground plane, composed of a planted carpet surmounted by wood flooring, that vertically links a penthouse loft with a roof terrace that affords panoramic views of downtown Manhattan.
The fundamental architectural proposition explored in this project was how do you add to a building which has its own history and place within the existing iconic environment of Campbell Parade. The design response was to place a lightweight metal clad structure onto the roof of the existing “art deco” building.
The split levels of this design define varied living spaces and echoes the multiple layers of civic space on 28th Street and the High Line. These split levels are expressed within the interlocking chevrons of 520 West 28th’s hand-crafted steel facade. The 11-story project houses 39 residences with 11-foot coffered ceilings, tailored interiors that incorporate Boffi kitchens by Zaha Hadid Design, and integrated technologies including automated valet parking and storage.
The penthouse in Magdalena emerges inside a building located in Colonia del Valle in Mexico City. The concept that generated the design consisted of the integration of elements of Mexican culture contrasting with details and contemporary accents. The project is characterized by the high degree of detail throughout.
Rafael Viñoly Architects’ new residential and mixed-use tower rises at the intersection of Park Avenue and East 57th Street. The building is a slender volume that marks the geometric center of the skyline. An exposed concrete structural frame is bounded to a slim concrete core, creating column-free interiors for the building’s 104 luxury residences.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2019 and updated on June 2, 2021.