China’s most provocative artist can add architect to his already extensive resume. Known around the world for his contemporary artwork and political activism, Ai Weiwei has also had a hand in designing this sprawling compound in upstate New York.
Located in bucolic Ancram — just a two-hour drive from New York City — the Tsai Residence was originally commissioned by a pair of Upper East Side art collectors. The 2,800-square-foot structure was completed in 2006 and put back on the market a few years later in 2013 for a whopping $4.25 million. But the hefty price tag comes with a unique distinction — it’s the only house in the United States that Ai has ever designed.
To complete the project, Ai joined forced with a team he had worked with previously, Swiss-based firm HHF Architects. In 2002, HHF was one of 16 companies invited by Ai to create pavilions in Jinhua Architecture Park, an area just south of Shanghai.
Despite its pastoral setting, the Tsai Residence is more industrial than provincial, made from four connected boxes clad in corrugated galvanized iron. Tall glass windows alternate with long solid expanses so the original owners could take in views of the nearby mountains as well as hang up paintings and photographs. Inside, a sleek, yet minimalist look of white walls and hardwood floors allow artwork to remain the focus.
Along with the main structure, there’s also a Y-shaped guesthouse that was added to the estate three years later. It’s lined with wood instead of metal, which helps it blend in more successfully with the surrounding tree-lined grounds. Like the larger house, the guest home was also designed with art in mind — along with a bedroom and kitchenette, Ai included (surprise, surprise) a gallery space.
Images © Iwan Baan