Watered Down

Gluckman Tang brings a unique aquarium skylight to the Brant Foundation

The 120-square-foot skylight of the Brant Foundation is composed of a multi-ton acrylic tray, and is connected to remote water treatment and heating equipment to allow for year-round use. (Photo by Tom Powell; Paintings © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York)

Gluckman Tang has converted Walter De Maria’s former home and studio, a 1920s-era Con Ed substation on Manhattan’s East 6th Street, into a second location for the Brant Foundation. The renovation of the Colonial Revival structure, which is fronted by amber-colored brick, casement windows, and a limestone base, included the restoration of historic details as well as the sensitive insertion of contemporary infrastructure. The most dramatic of these interventions brings an aquatic touch to the building: To provide additional daylighting for gallery spaces, the design called for the grafting of a 120-square-foot skylight, which doubles as a reflecting pool on the building’s fourth-floor terrace.

Photo of a roof with a reflecting pool in the center

The aquarium skylight as seen from the roof. (Sean Keenan)

At first glance, the skylight might appear to be glass—the design team’s initial choice—but research done in collaboration with structural engineers from Silman showed that the material would require secondary structural support that would partially obscure the opening. According to Gluckman Tang project manager Edowa Shimizu, “It was determined that acrylic, a material often used for aquariums, had the structural characteristics necessary to support the weight of the reflecting pool without any visible secondary structure.”

The design team placed the skylight within an existing girder bay, maximizing its size while avoiding the need to introduce significant loadbearing elements. For the production of the 12-foot-4-inch by 13-foot-8-inch acrylic tray, the design team turned to custom aquarium design firm Okeanos Aquascaping. On its own, the 4-inch-thick tray weighs 21/2 tons, and that figure doubles when the vessel is filled with 600 gallons of water.

Installation view of a rooftop skylight

Installation view of the skylight, which required several layers of waterproofing around the installation area. (Courtesy Gluckman Tang Architects)

As could be assumed, placing a 5-ton pool of water above an art gallery in a century-old building required an intricate mesh of waterproofing details. The tray was craned into place on top of a concrete curb matted with a 3/4-inch-thick neoprene pad that allows for a 5/8-inch thermal expansion in any direction. Prior to the installation of the neoprene, the concrete was covered with a liquid-applied waterproofing membrane produced by Kemper System. The tray is bounded by a powder-coated steel frame, which is in turn held in place by a series of adjustable tightening bolts.

A black and white diagram of a skylight

A sectional diagram showing a cross-section of the skylight. (Courtesy Gluckman Tang Architects)

From the interior, the skylight is visible through a rectangular opening paneled with lightly colored wood. The opening is outfitted with a motorized solar shade as well as an edge-lit acrylic light fixture developed by Flux Studio.

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