Maurice Medcalfe |
New York, USA 
Is it real or fiction? After seeing this photo, you may be wondering if the Bubble House is real or just a photomontage inspired by the futuristic drawings of the 60s.
Well, I confirm that this house exists and it is located in the Upper East Side, surrounded by historic buildings. Can you believe it?
Now you can get an idea of my face when, walking quietly one day, I suddenly bumped into her.
I was shocked.
I couldn’t believe that after almost 4 years living in the neighborhood, I still hadn’t seen this eccentric house that is literally… 4 blocks away from mine!
I was shocked.
So you can imagine my reaction: I wanted to knock on the door and know everything about it! And here I come to share it with you.
There is not much information about the Bubble House, and I had a hard time finding its history. I still haven’t dared to knock on the door, so I have to thank Saint Google for being my best ally in this case ;).
How the Bubble House arrived in the Upper East Side
As you know, the history of New York is relatively recent, or at least this is what we think coming from Europe. It was not until the 1860s when the typical houses called “Brownstone” started to be built at East 71st Street in the Upper East Side.
Let’s stop here for a second to explain the difference between “Brownstone” and “Townhouse”, because I was confused at first. Both are multi-story urban houses, usually attached and scaled as per the surrounding houses. The difference is that the façade of a “Brownstone” is built by reddish-brown sandstone (or the typical red brick). Therefore, a “Brownstone” is nothing more than a type of “Townhouse”.
Now that we are all on the same page, let’s continue.
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As I was saying, we need to go back to the 1860s to see the first house that was built at 251 East 71st Street, between 2nd and 3rd avenues. It was a brownstone matching the one on the right side.
If you’re interested in the entire history of the house from its inception to the moment it became an accurate setting for Star Trek, visit Daytonian in Manhattan blog.
This post gives a tour at the different stages in history of the house, introducing its multiple owners.
We will jump straight into the moment when the house became an “experiment” that left the neighborhood astonished (me too).
The man lands on the Moon and the Bubble House in Manhattan
A century later, in 1969, the brownstone that once occupied this location was demolished. This is when Maurice Medcalfe, an architect whom I had not heard of before, came into play. The only thing I found is that he was part of the architecture firm Hills & Medcalfe, that he designed his home in Stony Point, New York, and that I’d love to visit it one day.
I imagine Medcalfe as a dreamer who loved new technologies. Remember that at that time the man had just landed on the moon, and this clearly influenced the architect’s design.
The Bubble House, as the neighbors started calling it, was nothing more than a townhouse with an ultra modern design that stood out from the homogeneous architecture of the neighborhood. The façade, painted in a pink tone and without any ornamentation, allows the extravagant oval windows to take a starring role. They seem to watch the street like stalking eyes.
Integration of the Bubble House in society
At that time, the New York Times said that the windows of the Bubble House were “an interesting variation of the bay window”. These are the typical windows that protrude from the plane of the façade.
I am not sure I would define the windows like that. However, I do agree that this house should be part of a historic district, as pointed out in The AIA Guide to New York City, by the American Institute of Architects.
Well, I have no idea how the interiors of the Bubble House look like. Until the day the owners let me in, I will imagine the rooms full of futuristic furniture, such as the Tulip chair by Eero Saarinen or the Eames lounge chair.
One of the things I learned from this experience is that sometimes it is better not to walk alone. Do you know how difficult it was not talking to anybody when I came across the Bubble House? All I wanted was to stop everyone passing by on the street and yell, did you see this house!?
Anyway, I’ll keep you informed of future finds like this one.
Leave a comment and tell me how you would react at bumping into the Bubble House by surprise, and if you plan visiting it on your next trip to New York. If I’m in the neighborhood, we might take a coffee together ;).
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Nice description about your experience!! I just saw that building 2 months ago and it got me very surprised, the contrast among the typical NY architecture is crazy. Btw I’m living in NY and I’m an architect too 🙂
Hi Omar! Indeed, the contrast is mind blowing… but at the same time, it fits perfectly well, right?
Thank you so much for your comment. I hope to see you around 😉
The stuff is so awesome and good
🙂 Thanks for your comment, Patrick!
Hi! I was just as shocked by the house except I got it first see it from the back. My apartment windows face the unique home’s backyard. I can tell you from this side it looks very abandoned and no one has lived there for years from what I hear. The deck looks like it could fall apart any day and for the one and a half years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a light on or person. I am just as intrigued to learn more about the interior and the owners/history.
Hi Alex! Wow, lucky you!
Although I’m sorry to hear that nobody lives in the Bubble House… what a pity. I’d love to see a picture of the back façade. Could you send one to email@example.com? I’d really appreciate it!
Thank you so so much for your comment. Together we’ll try to know more about this eccentric work 😉 Hope to see you around Alex!
I lived a half block away for a few years in the early 70s, and actually was fascinated by the place and the spooky windows. I didn’t know anything about the owners at the time, but recently (within a few years) ran into one of the residents while passing by. It is, or was, inhabited by a family (still same owners, I think), with a gallery downstairs. Not sure of current status.
That is wonderful Dayle! I hope you could visit the gallery downstairs that day 😉
Thanks so much for sharing!
I knew Maurice Medcalfe, very curios , inventive architect. Extremely interesting man. Was involved with him during building of “bubble house” and also Stoney Brock residence.
Molt curiosa la casa amb aquestes obertures ovoidals que li donen un caràcter tant futurístic.
Imagino que no estan fetes de vidre sino de policarbonat?
La propera vegada que pugui venir a Manhanttan m’hi paso segur.
Quina alegria veure el teu comentari 🙂
No m’hi he pogut apropar ni tocar-les, però si, jo també penso que son de policarbonat.
Quan vinguis, avísa’m i t’acompaño!
Correction to above—— Stony Point!
That is so awesome Nancy!! I bet it was a great experience to be involved with both projects.
Thank you so much for your comment 🙂
I first met Maurice Medcalfe in Rockefeller Center where we both worked. I spent time with him when he was working on Stony Point. I fell madly in love with him between one of his multiple marriages. Yes a very interesting man indeed. I eventually sublet his apartment which was small but absolutely amazing in its concept. Shall we say he has never been forgotten!
I absolutely love your comment. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
We must, indeed 😉