Just off The High Line on West 24th Street, Metro Pictures has been given new life courtesy of New York firm, 1100 Architect. Inside the Chelsea gallery, a (somehow) forgotten skylight has been reborn and a sleek, seamless aluminum stairway also installed. The building is more spacious too: In part due to more daylight entering the building, but also because of a 16 percent increase in exhibition space.

Speaking to The Architect’s Newspaper, Project Architect Spencer Leaf said that much of the additional space had come from removing the entry vestibule and re-configuring the interior layout. “Though removing a threshold, we dropped the ceiling over [the] reception so that there is still some perceived transitional space between the gallery and the front door, but without there being a physical barrier. This opened up the gallery to the street more as well.”

(Courtesy James Ewing)

(Courtesy James Ewing)

Leaf also discussed the gallery’s new stairway. Muted in style, the minimalist replacement of the original stairs (made from blackened metal and two-inch-thick steel tube treads) resulted from the client’s request to “make the stairs more discreet.” At a glance, the stairway appears to be draped in a single, wafer-thin sheet of metal that silently climbs up through the stairwell. Despite this slenderness, though, one instinctively knows the material can take a person’s weight too.

“We looked at a number of materials and felt that aluminum gave us the most durability,” explained Leaf. “We also liked sanded aluminum largely because of its ambiguous quality—it has a certain massive-ness to it. It almost seems like a carved material or a poured material. A lot of people have asked if it was concrete when they have seen pictures of it.”


(Courtesy James Ewing)

(Courtesy James Ewing)

“The material thickness was a particular challenge for us especially with aluminum being particularly soft—it’s all a 3/8ths of an inch thick plate,” Leaf added. “When we started looking at it as a folded or welded plate, all of our alignments started being ruined due to that 3/8ths thickness.”

Within this confined area, material connections are concealed—an effect that causes visitors who care enough about stairwell detailing enough to swoon, yet one others may overlook. “All the treads are built as boxes,” explained Leaf, who added that when viewed from one side to the other, no thickness is visible. “They always align at a point that a hair could barely pass through.”

(Courtesy James Ewing)

(Courtesy James Ewing)

Leaf described the stairway as a “relatively compressed space” but highlighted the 25-foot ceiling that opens up above and the recessed Corian handrail. As with the stairs, Leaf said he and the design team didn’t want it to be too obvious or direct in its material or function. “The handrail is the same color and perceived materiality as the gypsum board interior walls. However, when you touch it feels almost like stone because of the quality of the Corian,” he said.

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