Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Design Development of NYC Micro Dwellings

Design Development of NYC Micro Dwellings


This week’s focus for the NYC Micro Dwellings was to develop the design of the exterior façade and balcony railings. Since the beginning of the project, I imagined that the building would be cladded with a wood rain screen system that transitioned into handrails for the balcony. The natural and warm aesthetic of the wood will contrast with the steel and stone exterior of the adjacent building and bring together the textures and materials found on the Highline. While designing this system, the biggest problem that I encountered was deciding whether or not the wood rain screen façade should go from the ground floor or the first floor up to the roof.

Designing the Wood Rain Screen and Railing System

As I began designing the exterior cladding, I had to determine the pattern of the wood panels on the façade. So I went through some old photographs that I took on the Highline and noticed the various materials that were used on the project. The main ones were concrete for the walkway, steel from the existing rails, and wood planks for all of the furniture and some areas of the walkway. Looking at the adjacent building’s design, the exterior façade also combines steel for its structure, wood cladding on the window, and stone for the remainder of the façade. By designing the wood rain screen on the NYC Micro Dwelling’s façade as horizontal planks, the composition of materials on both buildings would correlate with the materials found on the site.

Photograph of materials used on the Highline

Concrete and wood bench on the Highline

Detail of concrete and wood bench on the Highline

After much thought, my decision was to use wood planks in a horizontal configuration as a continuous band on each floor. This would emphasize the communal aspect of the building’s design. To model this in Revit, I used the curtain wall component, changed the glazing type to “Empty Panel System”, and modified the mullion sizes and spacing. By offsetting the vertical mullions so that it sits behind the horizontal mullions, the wood rain screen was simple to model throughout the building as 1x4 horizontal planks with ½” spaces between each one. I also created a railing family with horizontal wood members that were the same size and spacing as the wood rain screen. To test the design of this rain system, I modeled it on the 2nd and 3rd floor and analyzed it in several perspectives.

NYC Micro Dwellings Wood Rain Screen Facade Ground, 1st, and 2nd Floor

After creating the wood rain screen façade and railing on the 3rd and 4th floor, I duplicated the design on all of the upper floors and analyzed it in 3D views. In my opinion, the system unifies the building in its entirety through its continuity on every floor. Although the building is modular and repetitious in its design, the jagged perimeter of the balconies on every floor creates a dynamic aesthetic that also relates to the bench designs on the Highline.

NYC Micro Dwellings Wood Rain Screen Facade

To finish the design of the wood rain screen façade and railing, I also brought the design to the central atrium of the building and mimicked the balcony design of the units on the exterior of the building. The design of the central atrium's façade requires additional exploration with regard to transparent materials or windows. For now, operable windows are located on every floor to allow natural light and ventilation through the building. I’ve also considered the possibility of using a combination of translucent and transparent glass bricks on the corridor walls along the atrium.

NYC Micro Dwellings Wood Rain Screen Facade Isometric Section

Designing the Ground Floor’s Exterior Facade

Initially, the plan for the ground floor was to design micro pop-up stores and restaurants that would change with the seasons and allow small businesses to set up temporary shops. However, as I began designing these pop-up areas and restaurants, I realized that the ground floor would only be able to hold about six to eight restaurants and pop-up stores. So I looked around the site and observed the existing public programs on the ground floor of each building and I wasn’t able to find a supermarket. There were restaurants, boutique stores, and other public programs, but there wasn’t a larger space to purchase fresh groceries. Going back to the drawing board, I redesigned the entire ground floor and separated the NYC Micro Dwellings’ entrance and lobby from the supermarket. I also decided to start the atrium on the 2nd floor and use the extra space in the supermarket.

NYC Micro Dwellings Ground Floor Public Space Design - Transparent facade

Then, I encountered the challenge of designing the exterior façade of the ground floor to complete the exterior composition of the building. At the time, the NYC Micro Dwelling’s façade on the ground floor was entirely transparent, which made the units’ above appear to float. However, as I began looking at the design of the exterior façade of the units, I realized that bringing the wood planks down to the ground and placing large windows throughout would unify the entire building and create visual breaks for pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Personally, I’ve found myself drawn to stores in NYC that had visual breaks between each bay than the ones that were transparent throughout.

NYC Micro Dwellings Ground Floor Public Space Design - Wood rain screen facade

My final design focus for this phase of the NYC Micro Dwellings was the public space on the rooftop that would be accessible only by the residents. I decided to maintain the materials of the wood rain screen façade and use them on elements on the roof. Planter boxes will be constructed out of the wood planks, benches would be a combination of thin steel supports with wood seats, and plants from the Highline will be planted in each planter. The exterior wood rain screen will wrap the mechanical penthouse, stair towers, and elevator shafts.

NYC Micro Dwellings Design and Material draft render

Next Steps

With the building façade, railings, and ground floor designed, the next step for the NYC Micro Dwellings is to go through the Revit model and clean up any major errors. After the model is free of major errors, I’ll go through and check my materials, which you’re able to see a rough draft in the bird’s eye rendering above. Finally, the biggest challenge for the remainder of February is to get a friend of mine in NYC to go out to the site and photograph it for future rendering purposes. I’d be more than willing to visit and photograph the site, but I’m away from NYC. I’ll be sure to visit in the Spring or Summer to get photographs of the site while the plants are lush.

Thank you so much for reading and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below! Be sure to sign up for my newsletters and follow me on the social media platforms below for updates on my design ventures!

NYC Micro Dwelling Materials and Site Photos

NYC Micro Dwelling Materials and Site Photos

Schematic Design of NYC Micro Dwellings

Schematic Design of NYC Micro Dwellings