In 1884, the world’s first skyscraper was completed.
Designed by William Le Baron Jenney, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago was only 10 storeys tall, but its innovative steel frame transformed cosmopolitan architecture forever. In those days, urban expansion was driven upward by increasing real-estate values in land-poor areas such as downtown Chicago and Manhattan. Today, however, high-rises have taken on a more symbolic standing as each country races to construct the loftiest structure in existence. Naturally, the allure of the penthouse has risen with the buildings. After all, is there any greater status symbol than occupying the uppermost floors of one of the pinnacles of human enterprise?
For many, penthouse living belongs in the realm of fantasy. Madrid design company Sota&Co and Surabaya-based 3D visualisation studio 2G Studio have imagined the ultimate dream loft for the Spanish capital.
Flooded with light and boasting spectacular perspectives across the city, the designers focused on bringing a sense of spirit into the space, while at the same time maintaining its elegance and openness. To achieve this, they employed a high-contrast palette ranging from brilliant whites to dark tones across a range of materials.
The capacity is further amplified by connecting the living, dining and kitchen areas – not only spatially, but also through the repeated use of marble, brass detailing and black appointments. The bedrooms, however, make an aesthetic departure with warm woods, assorted fabrics in softer hues, and statement artworks.
From one metropolis to another – and this time, it’s far closer to home. Conceptualised by Shanghai-based Kokaistudios, House of the Tree in Shenzhen rewrites the rules of urban loft living in China by taking the topmost two floors of a high-rise condominium and transforming them into one duplex penthouse.
The tree from which the residence takes its name occupies centre stage, planted within a double-height glass atrium that awards views of the city’s fast-evolving skyline and around which the rest of the apartment seems to emerge. Downstairs is dedicated to entertaining, with a large kitchen and dining area that flows into a vast core space – complete with sizeable artworks – and outside to the terrace and pool, while the mezzanine floor provides private family areas connected via a bisecting bridge.
Careful attention has been paid to ensure harmony between Shenzhen’s urban sprawl and the arresting hills and oceans that border it, often through the use of environmentally friendly materials. These include Venetian Marmorino stucco in lieu of marble to softly diffuse the natural daylight that swathes every corner of the penthouse, as well as oil oak flooring from northern China, which adds warmth.
Perched 72 storeys above the streets of New York is one of the most opulent, art-filled aeries in all of Manhattan. Designed by Eran Chen of ODA-Architecture, the magnificent duplex enjoys unfettered views of the Hudson River on one side and Midtown monuments in miniature – including the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building – on the other.
What’s most incredible about the space, however, isn’t the jaw-dropping vistas that draw the eyes out, but the awe-inspiring artworks that entice them back in. Nowhere is the equilibrium between interior and exterior better balanced than in the entrance hall, where stepping stones across a reflecting pool precipitate a pause, affording moments to absorb the outlook as well as the surrounding gallery-level pieces, including a mound of Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds and an abstract painting of waves by Leigh Wen.
Once inside, double-height windows allow the outlook to take pride of place in peripheral rooms, while interior spaces are dedicated to exhibiting the art.
There are, of course, lofts that commit to austere interiors to great effect, including this Norm Architects-designed penthouse that sits atop one of the few high-rise buildings in Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg neighbourhood. The striking penthouse is a realisation of the clients' dream of a home free from physical and psychological distraction. From the white resin floor to the matt-black room divider, the spectacular space is an exercise in contrast and minimalism.
Simplicity of an almost monastic level has been achieved through clever concealment of cupboards, as well as daily details such as door knobs and fittings, while lighting is controlled via wireless switches. This ensures that there is little diversion from the view and the sculptural furnishings placed within, allowing the inhabitants to savour all that penthouse living affords.
Photography by Frank Ouderman, Charlie Via and Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen