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An elegant, luminescent and innovative contemporary residence by Ulises Liceaga

Architect Ulises Liceaga of the Fractal Architecture agency has created an elegant, luminescent and innovative contemporary residence in the Gramercy Park neighbourhood. The result: he is the winner of the Ceramics d’Italie prize in the residential category.


Gramercy, on Manhattan’s East Side, is legendary for its private park, to which only surrounding residents have access. Once upon a time, you needed a gold key to enter. Today, Karl Lagerfeld and Uma Thurman have discreet, ordinary keys to enter the most exclusive garden in Manhattan.


Gramercy has its own particular style, somewhat like that of West End London. In this exclusive old neighbourhood, lots of properties are being renovated. The grand Gramercy Hotel dates from the 1920s, but its interior décor was redone in 2006 by painter and cinematographer Julian Schnabel. Every iota of Gramercy’s charm is summed up in this very 19th century architectural complex, where designers are working to adapt its interiors to a contemporary lifestyle. For an architect, the challenge is to respect this atmosphere while leaving one’s own artistic stamp.

Ulises Liceaga’s project

Ulises Liceaga’s house stands out from others in Gramercy. What a gem! The ingenuity of the project taken on by his agency, Fractal Architecture, is found in the solutions used to reconvert a townhouse dating from 1848. Initially the triplex and three lofts one atop the other didn’t meet their new owners’ requirements. The spaces revealed an outmoded lifestyle. They were open, yes, but dark, and the spirit of the place seemed somewhat stifled.


With the intention of making the home more spacious, Liceaga made the three lofts into a two-storey open-plan apartment with lovely high ceilings, and added a third storey on the roof. In other words, he created a triplex on top of the existing triplex. The building’s structure had to be reinforced so that they could open up the rear façade and transform it into a glass wall.

Like being outside

Translucidity has become a major theme. The lovely glasswork on the ground floor is now overlooked by a glass terrace opening on a glass wall. This interplay of openness and transparency continues with the second terrace, this one on the roof. The view is splendid and residents have an opportunity to take advantage of being outside – fine additions to the house’s charm. Life is lived in luxurious comfort, hidden from passers-by but just like being outside.


From the street, nothing gives away the transformations that the building has undergone or its newfound transparency. They only appear when you’ve crossed the threshold. Natural light circulates freely through the home with nothing to interrupt it. This freedom makes the space seem even more open. The evening lighting was designed by Ingo Maurer: a multitude of LEDs were set into the glass wall like snowflakes. Their sparkle screens against spectators from outside. This way the residents take advantage of outdoor light during the day and in the evening the wall blurs its transparency for more security.


The living room represents the building’s open spirit. The double-height ceiling provides spectacular volume. The contemporary décor is both sophisticated and warm. Works by artist Emilio Garcia, a childhood friend of the architect, bring a playful, joyous touch. The same magic shines in the bedrooms and other private spaces. It feels like an absolutely delicious place to live. Ulises Liceaga has given this house in Gramercy both its chic and its groove back. Keep an eye on him…


Text: Barbara Stehle

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