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Fire Wall

Manhattan’s most striking new townhouse guards its privacy with a thin metal skin. On the other side: a half-buried media center, an indoor-outdoor kitchen, and a rare rooftop living room.

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Every house has a story, some more dramatic than others—like the tale of the brand-new townhouse on Greenwich, which thwarts sidewalk voyeurism with a sheet of steel. “Exactly three years ago, we came out of Pastis—it was my birthday—and we saw a building for sale,” says a fairly recent London transplant to New York. “It was a 50-year-old derelict building; we were literally buying the land.” That birthday girl and her husband bid on it the next day, eventually paying $1.6 million. A few months later, the shell fell down on its own and had to be demolished by the city. And last week, the couple and their three young children moved into a 5,000-square-foot townhouse on the site, one of only a handful built from the ground up in Manhattan in the past 50 years.


Architect Matthew Baird wasn’t a stranger to small lots—before starting his own firm, he was project architect for Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates’ American Folk Art Museum—but he saw a family home in the hottest neighborhood in the city as a unique sort of challenge. For privacy and security, the façade had to be largely opaque, but to make the interior airy, he needed big windows. So the front became a single sheet of rolled Cor-Ten steel, 40-by-14-feet, and only 1 1/2-inches thick (they had to close the inbound lanes on one level of the George Washington Bridge when it was trucked in). As for the rear, it’s all glass, including a twelve-by-twelve “door” pane that, when folded back, makes the deck and the kitchen into one big room.

“One of the great secrets of that house is that you can actually see deep into the space from the street, but only very limited angles,” says Baird. “The big surprise is the bright light coming in from the garden.”


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