Terraces to Look At and Linger On

Terraces to Look At and Linger On

Balconies of old had none of this derring-do.

New York’s early apartment buildings had large terraces on the setbacks at the top of buildings, adjacent to penthouses. But they weren’t really regarded as outdoor living space.

Some buildings had shallow so-called Juliet balconies, which provided floor area measured in inches rather than feet and thus functioned largely as facade decoration.

In the mid-20th century, developers began adding cantilevered terraces for economic reasons, according to Robert A.M. Stern, founder of his namesake architecture firm and co-author of “New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial.” Such slabs were “cheaper than a whole room to build,” Mr. Stern said, but building owners could charge considerably more these apartments. Instead of “a four-room apartment, you’d have a three-room-with-balcony apartment.”

Small, cheaply detailed, and sometimes overlooking trafficked streets, these “tongue depressors,” as Mr. Stern disparagingly calls them, typically became overflow storage, filled with bikes and baby carriages — not people (unless they were ducking out there for a smoke).

The problem went beyond the fact that a tenant might feel insecure out on a ledge exposed on three sides. The air was more polluted in the days before the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the terraces got sooty. Air-conditioning, which encouraged residents to remain inside, was another reason terraces went out of favor.

But now developers are asking architects to bring them back, albeit in friendlier forms. And green-minded architects, for their part, are pushing developer clients to allow them to include terraces in their plans.

At 100 Vandam Street, a project that COOKFOX has designed for real estate developer Jeff Greene, there will be outdoor rooms, setback terraces, loggia balconies and what the architects are calling “sky garden planters,” filled with native perennials, grasses and ferns.

Rick Cook, a co-founder of the design firm, said that he adds so many terraces to his buildings that he calls the sum of the horizontal surfaces “the fifth facade.”

Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld is also adding built-in planters to some of the terraces on his garden-themed Jardim condominium for Centaur Properties and Greyscale Development Group. The project, which consists of two 11-story towers, is currently under construction next to the Zaha Hadid-designed 520 West 28th Street, which has its own space-age-looking terraces.

The developer Douglas Durst and his wife have experienced old- and new-style balconies, in rental buildings owned by the Durst Organization.

They lived for two years at the Helena, on West 57th Street, which was built in 2003, but the couple did not find their cantilevered terrace particularly welcoming, in part because of wind and street noise.

But down the street at the recently completed Via 57 West, where the Dursts moved in September, the terraces are inset in the angular building designed by Bjarke Ingels. In fact, the architect calls them “cockpits” because they offer protection from wind and noise.


At Via 57 West, the terraces are inset in the angular building. The architect Bjarke Ingels calls them “cockpits” because they offer protection from wind and noise.

“Even on a windy day,” said Mr. Durst, “it’s pleasant out there.”

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