Penthouse from Space

If you go to Vienna, probably you will spot the penthouse inserted between traditional rooftops by Delugan Meissl in the city’s Wieden district.

The penthouse is really GREAT. It was designed by Elke Meissl and her partner & husband, Roman Delugan, as a rooftop addition for their family, but it feels more like a spaceship that has landed on the roof and will move to a new destination as soon as it gets what it wants.

This Alien sense of glomming is particularly evident in a cantilevered section that sticks out the back of the penthouse and looms above the building’s courtyard. It connects to the home’s main stairwell and contains the entry foyer. From there the apartment unfolds not in a conventional hierarchy of rooms but rather in a sequence of vectors that rush in and out toward the surrounding roofscapes of Vienna’s Wieden district, combining a sense of perpetual motion and vertigo.


Converging lines of sheer glass, sloping floors, and ceiling planes create the impression of multiple perspectives and vanishing points. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls enhance the illusion of total transparency. There are no interior walls except for those around the bedrooms. Most of the furniture is built-in and plays its part in the spatial continuum. Ramps lead up to the living zone, while the kitchen sits on a central plateau, which the architects refer to as their “culinary cockpit.”

A long white bar stretches down the center of the apartment and serves as both kitchen counter and visual continuity for the exterior. In the “relaxation zone”, a broad, pillow-laden platform—a kind of updated conversation pit—appears to be suspended between planes of glass.

The penthouse was always intended as a daring move, one calculated to challenge the existing codes and counteract Vienna’s museumlike character. Within the city’s arcane building code, there are provisions for rooftop/attic expansions, but they are exacting: a mansard-style silhouette with a 45-degree slope.

The building faces Platz am Mittersteig, a small triangular plaza created by the odd intersection of several streets. The architects’ own office is located above the plaza directly across from their penthouse. Along this street elevation, House Ray 1 presents a dizzying array of extruded and folded lateral barriers, with metallic surfaces that appear to be scooping air and light for internal consumption. One is reminded of air-intake systems and jetways. (It’s no coincidence that while working out the intricate interfaces of their own penthouse, the architects were designing an extension to the Vienna International Airport and a proposal for the Italian Space Agency.)

The outer skin of the roof is made from Alucobond, a thin manufactured panel of coated aluminum. From inside the home, these panels act as blinders, allowing a degree of privacy within the all-glass apartment, while at the same time blocking or directing attention toward the enviable panoramic views. You can stand in the middle of the penthouse and see all the way to the snow-capped mountains, St. Stephen’s Cathedral at the heart of the old city, and even the brash new high-rises of Donau City.


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