A 54,000-square-foot residential tower in the Chelsea arts district of Manhattan contains nineteen apartments and two galleries. The design uses images of the old steam trains that traversed the High Line tracks, adjacent to the site, to derive form and surface. Our initial studies were of clouds emanating from the smokestacks of railroad cars. Dissipating into the sky, these clouds tended to have dark, thick tones at their bases and then would billow, dissolve, and lighten into the sky. Their vaporous, tonal metamorphoses inform both the architectural form of the building and the texture of its skin, through embossing. To replicate the phenomena of clouds, we made several digital studies of a steam engine cloud and isolated a small area depicting the gradient from black to white. This area was then pixilated and overlaid onto the facade in accordance with a variety of contextual conditions pertaining to privacy, view, and light. Five types of pixels were designed and then transformed from dots to protruding diamonds, for capturing light. Custom dies for a computer-numerical-control (CNC) turret punch (like a large-scale typewriter) were manufactured. As two-by-four-foot panels run through the machine, a digital drawing instructs it to punch each piece of stainless steel with a pattern of diamonds, re-imaging and transposing the cloud across the facade of the building. These raised diamonds catch light differently throughout the day and year; though fixed materially, each facade is a mutable surface. The building’s color, shade, and depth are untethered. In this way, ornament is inextricable from architecture; while environment and site history are emblazoned in a dichotomy in which local context is fixed, even while construction is ever-changing. 245 Tenth Avenue won an Archi Award for Design Excellence from the AIA Long Island Chapter in 2008 in the Residential Unbuilt Category. 

(in collaboration with Jared Della Valle) 

Photography by Andrew Bernheimer/Bernheimer Architecture