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Shokan House

Jay Bargmann of Rafael Viñoly Architects has designed a house for his family in the Catskill Mountains Forest Preserve, New York. The house stands just below a mountain summit, at the edge of the Ashokan reservoir, The project relies on this wild landscape to offer a dwelling which mimics the environment, becoming part of the surrounding views and the nature (water, trees…) Steel, glass, concrete, ceramic and wood are left exposed and unadorned throughout the building.

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© Brad Feinknopf

The 560 square metre house has four bedrooms, a living room, a cooking and dining room and a garage with two airplane hanger doors providing entry and exit. The foundation is exposed concrete, the superstructure is black painted steel and the enclosure is anodized aluminum and glass. Continuous bands of glass run at the ceiling and the floor, reminders of sky and earth. Opaque glass panels are inserted to frame views. All services run below a modular ceramic tile access floor and are easily reconfigured. The volume of the house is articulated with casework constructed of American walnut veneer, painted steel and Corian enclosures for toilets and showers. Work surfaces are brushed stainless steel reflecting the sky and sharing the color of the Reservoir below.

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© Brad Feinknopf

The house is a transition; it mediates between the vertical, barefaced cliff to the north and the rolling ranges of hills on the horizon to the south. The view from the living room is panoramic and immediate. Climbing the stair to the dining room, one turns and finds a modulated, detached view. Moving through the house, one passes open and closed volumes, the house terminates abruptly in the gray-brown wall of rock. Here, the axis of the house shifts to a broad arc moving East and West into the surrounding forest.

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© Brad Feinknopf

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© Brad Feinknopf

Design Features:

  • The circular driveway at the Shokan House goes through the residence, thanks to wide-span garage doors on either side of the ground floor of the structure.
  • All systems and ducts in the double-height living room at the south end of the house (with its view to the kitchen and dining area on the floor above) run underneath a ceramic-tile, raised access floor to maintain an uncluttered interior.
  • A bedroom at the north end of the house is flooded with light— sometimes too much. Bargmann is considering installing roller shades in addition to the stainless steel sunshades shown here.
  • Walnut cabinets divide spaces in the largely open-plan second floor, and provide shelving for the second- floor library.
  • The steel T-section frame for the house’s glass enclosure is bolted to the concrete foundation for stability, and the thin profiles of the piers minimize disruption of the view over the valley below.
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© Brad Feinknopf

“The making of the house is transparent, every joint is visible and every material is manifest. The exposed construction details are the only ornament and provide human scale. It was my intention to make the house with the rigor of a Thelonious Monk piano solo. Nothing can be deleted, every note is necessary and responsive to the note before and following. The house is lucid and laconic.” – Bargmann

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© Brad Feinknopf

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© Brad Feinknopf

Jay Bargmann:

The house stands at the edge of the Ashokan reservoir, just below the summit of a Catskill mountain, with views extending south across and beyond the reservoir to the horizon. Oak, fir, spruce, and an occasional birch surround the house. Hawks, turkey, fox, deer and bear regularly appear.

A ½-mile gravel road curves around a grass-banked pond, leading to the long western elevation of the house and then extends, in an arc, around the southern elevation.

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© Brad Feinknopf

The 6,00 square foot house is entered from the east or west through doors set into the concrete foundation enclosing a vestibule, a bedroom and the garage. From the concrete walled vestibule with its fireplace, one turns and enters the steel-framed living room with views across treetops to the reservoir, the distant mountains and the surrounding forest.

At the top of the stair, the dining room and kitchen afford a second, more elevated view across the Reservoir to the mountains extending to the East and West. Two bedrooms and a library complete this level. The house terminates in a boulder-faced cliff, a stone terrace and herb garden on the West and a single bench to the east that sits in the tree-filtered morning light.

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© Brad Feinknopf

The exposed, reinforced concrete foundation bears on rock, the glass enclosure is built of “T” sections, bolted to the foundation, supporting open web joists, 4 feet on center. The “T” sections also serve as the frame for the glass wall, integrating structure and enclosure.

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© Brad Feinknopf

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© Brad Feinknopf

Services are run beneath the ceramic tile access floor and can be readily accessed, reconfigured or extended. Walnut cabinets define interior spaces. Furniture is walnut and painted steel with stainless steel work surfaces. The horizontal stainless steel planes mimic the surface tones of the reservoir and subtly reflect the atmospheric conditions.

Steel, glass, concrete, ceramic and wood are left exposed and unadorned. Every piece records the construction of the house and is essential to the concept. The house is lucid and laconic.

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© Brad Feinknopf

About: Jay Bargmann

Jay Bargmann is the Senior Vice President at Rafael Vinoly Architects and manages the firm’s 180 architects in offices in New York and London. He was born in Iowa, raised in Germany and attended college in California and Iowa. Jay obtained his architectural degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduating, he moved to New York City where he has lived for the past 29 years. Jay and his family currently reside in Pelham, New York.

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© Brad Feinknopf

Project Data:

Project name: Shokan House
Location: 9 Torrens Hook Road, Shokan, New York 12481, United States
Coordinates: 41.987826, -74.244162

  • Type By Characteristic: Architects House, Holiday House
  • Type By Site: Hill House, Lake House
  • Type By Size: Big House – (451 sqm – 650 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Glass House, Steel House

Project Area: 6,000 sq.ft / 560 sqm
Status: Built
Cost: n/a
Completion Date/Year: 2015


  • 2016 – WAN Awards – Category: House of the Year – Longlist

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Jay Bargmann
Architects: Jay Bargmann – Rafael Viñoly Architects – 50 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013, United States
Project Manager: James Rund


  • Landscape: Green Valley Landscaping
  • Structural Engineering: Yoshinori Nito Engineering and Design
  • Lighting Design: One Lux Studio


  • Reinforced Concrete: Darlind
  • Steel Fabrication: Fall Fittings
  • Steel Erection: Styles Steel Erectors
  • Mechanical and Plumbing: B. Murphy’s Plumbing & Heating
  • Electrical: Rondout Electric
  • Curtainwall: Dante Tisi
  • Stair and Balustrade: TriPyramid Structures
  • Access Floor: Tri-State Computer Flooring Co.
  • Millwork: Thomas Jerome
  • Steel Furniture: Super Square Corp.; KD Metalworks
  • Site Work and Road: CPS Excavating

Text Description: © Courtesy of Jay Bargmann
Images: © Jay Bargmann, Brad Feinknopf

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Shokan House / Jay Bargmann
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