The old industrial building close to Gramercy Park, New York, housed a dental factory at the end of the 19th century. When he acquired it, it was in two parts, divided by a patio at the centre. Architect David Ling has turned certain elements to his advantage and created from this three-fold chaos a logical whole, containing his work place and his home. He has created a sophisticated combination of old and new, has overcome structural problems and made room for the furniture prototypes he designs himself. A striking feature is the waterfall which cheerfully splashes down from beneath his bed to the living area below, past the metal ‘funnel’ which contains his bathroom.
The building is a stone’s throw from Gramercy Park – a special park, since only those living in the neighbourhood have keys to the gates and because it is home to the New York Arts Club. The neighbourhood is a mix of old industrial and residential premises. Many of the former factories have been converted into residential units – as has this one where, on the ground floor, architect David Ling has his New York studio and home. It was once a dental factory, built in the 19th century. Originally it comprised two separate volumes, with the factory at the front and a carriage house/garage at the back, and a patio in the middle. At a later stage the patio was fully integrated in the building. The concrete beams which were once part of the dividing structure are still visible.
David bought it when it was ‘under construction’ and was just in time to salvage (and later recycle) the old materials that were intended for demolition. For instance, he used the old beams for the footpath over the sunken library space and the floor slabs for the ‘tatami’ platform in the living area. “I wanted to keep the building’s rusticated feel. To keep the rawness to offset the new, modern elements that are straight and clean. So metal and stark concrete contrasting with those rusticated elements. The conical metal form at the end of the space has a similar contrast function. Straight juxtaposed with curved, natural materials as opposed to synthetic.” The architect: “Much of my work is inspired by that of painters and sculptors. The design of the openings in the ceiling is inspired by James Turrell’s work and the kitchen by the film ‘2001, a Space Odyssey’ directed by Stanley Kubrik. The cone shape made from simple galvanised sheeting was inspired by Giacometti’s work. The floors are somewhat unfinished and certainly not fancy. This interior should clearly represent my world.” The blue wall at the back was originally planned as a waterfall. However, structural problems with the staircase obliged him to find a different solution. It has been painted deep blue as a metaphor for the planned waterfall. Now water pours from under the bed like a running curtain.
In his design, David pursued a clear distinction between the zones. In the front he has put his design studio, in the centre the basement with a dining table and a library, and at the back the kitchen and living space. Above there is the bedroom space. The zones are marked by their specific form, by the light and water. Incidentally, the architect does not live here all week. He spends part of his time living and working at a house he designed for himself on Long Island.
David Ling’s parents came originally from China and, as scientists, emigrated to the United States. He himself studied architecture in Chicago and elsewhere, graduating from the University of Stuttgart, Germany. Back in New York he worked as an associate with the influential architect, Richard Meier. In the early 1990s he began his own studio working on a retail project in Germany, where he was involved in hospitality projects which obliged to fly regularly between Germany and the United States. As an architect and interior designer he specialises in high-end residential projects, but he also designs flagship stores for major fashion brands in Rome, London, Paris and Tokyo.
PHOTOGRAPHY HANS & IZABEL FONK
TEXT RAPHAËLLE DE STANISLAS