Water-tower penthouse makes a splash on E. 12th St.

Photo courtesy Prudential Douglas Elliman
An East Village penthouse loft now on the market features a water tank converted into living space.

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  While Jeff Koons and other high-profile artists recently made waves by announcing that they will spend next summer placing images on rooftop water tank exteriors throughout the city, one Greenwich Village penthouse can already lay claim to having the coolest tank in town.

The apartment at 12 E. 12th St. recently hit the market with a $3.6 million price tag, and the uniqueness of its most notable element makes it easy to see why. Above the luxuriously posh, two-bedroom space, there sits a terracotta water tower that’s been converted into an inviting hangout spot, complete with windows and a skylight for added comfort.

“It’s so rare to find an opportunity to do something like that, so I think it’s a very special design,” said Brian Messana of the architecture firm Messana O’Rorke, which developed the concept.

He noted that the idea for the tank wasn’t even part of the original plan for the property, since his firm was hired in 2008 just to renovate the bathroom. But after initial delight from the owner, their work spread to include other rooms, eventually covering the entire penthouse.

Then, Messana recalled, one thing led to another, and the owner had the thought of somehow revitalizing the old, unused tank atop the building. The architects took it from there.

After taking a month to cut down the tank’s cast-iron lining with blowtorches and remove it piece by piece, Messana and his partner, Toby O’Rorke, set about envisioning a design that would effectively utilize the 11-foot-wide cylinder without over-embellishing it.

“We’re minimalists, and all of our work is very reserved,” Messana explained. “In this case, the tank’s large, empty volume was an inspiration for the project, and we took great care to maintain the simplicity and beauty of the space.”

So the end result featured only two major changes, aside from their excavation of the iron interior, which left the tank with fresh, white walls.

The first was the installation of a vertical series of steel-framed windows, which stretch nearly the tower’s full length. Messana noted that the glass panes face east, rather than south (the direction of the roof’s best view, which offers a clear line of sight to the new World Trade Center), in order to sustain a source of natural light. The other addition was that of an oculus — a small, circular skylight set into the center of the tank’s roof — to further increase the natural light.

Messana O’Rorke’s other recent work in the area includes an apartment at the corner of E. Ninth St. and University Place, and a townhouse on Charles St. that’s owned by David Zinczenko, the editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine. The firm’s design for Zinczenko’s property has also won them an award from the Society of American Registered Architects, which they received at a ceremony last week.

Messana, 48, has worked alongside O’Rorke, who is originally from the United Kingdom, since 1996. Messana is a longtime East Village resident, having lived in the neighborhood since moving from California in 1989. He said that he has found plenty of inspiration from the local cityscape, but lamented some of the ways in which it’s changed over time.

“Some of the new buildings around here are interesting, but some of them aren’t at all,” he said. “I’m thinking of moving to another part of the city so I can see something else, and maybe take in a new perspective.”

And while many of his neighbors have lashed out against New York University’s expansion plans in recent years, Messana gave some very pointed criticisms of what he called the school’s inferior architectural designs.

“The N.Y.U. building program is horrible, and I think they’re destroying the fabric of the city with cheap, cookie-cutter projects,” he said. “Considering all the money the school has, they should be hiring better architects.”

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