Rooftops: On top of the world

Roof on the Wit Hotel

ROOF on theWit Hotel.Pictured: Roof on the Wit Hotel.

Retractable glass is a major factor in the rooftop club and lounge at downtown Chicago’s theWit Hotel. ROOF on theWit covers 7,000 square feet on the 27th floor of the hotel and has a retractable glass enclosure over the outdoor portion to adjust to inclement weather. (The glass was only added after a party on the rooftop was put in danger due to a storm.)

Designer Jackie Koo, president of Koo and Associates, said the glass enclosure changed the final product drastically from its original composition and created circulation challenges, forcing the team to take down the fire pits in the center of the patio, which affected the drama of the ambience, especially for the late-night crowd. A climate-control system was installed in order to keep the temperatures consistent, and Koo said that more rooftop spaces going forward will have some sort of retractable glass enclosure and climate control system.


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“On ROOF, our climate control system allows us to cheat somewhat,” she said. “During the blazing hot summer days we have cool air blowing down on the space, even though the windows and enclosure are open. The result is that great outdoor feeling while being comfortable. Similarly, we can have an open-air environment with some heat blowing down for cool fall days.” 

Above New York

In Manhattan, the team for The NoMad Hotel took a different route from glass enclosures and took a cue from the property’s name when creating its rooftop space. Designed by Stonehill & Taylor, the hotel’s rooftop employs a large Moroccan-style nomadic tent with original Heriz carpets on the floor and chandeliers hanging from the draped ceiling.

The NoMad rooftop employs a large Moroccan-style nomadic tent with original Heriz carpets, and chandeliers.Pictured: The NoMad rooftop employs a large Moroccan-style nomadic tent with original Heriz carpets, and chandeliers.

Michael Suomi, principal and VP of design at Stonehill & Taylor, said the space was originally conceived as a garden due to the hotel’s gold LEED status. “Part of the sustainable approach was a green roof,” he said. Besides the garden with outdoor seating, the roof would have had a cupola and a room with a bar for private functions. The first summer the hotel was open, dinner was available on the rooftop when the weather cooperated, but the space could only be booked on the same day, limiting participation.

Last winter, the hotel team approached Stonehill & Taylor to reconsider the rooftop and develop a way to extend its season. While a permanent tent was not possible due to legal restrictions, the team erected a traditional weatherproof temporary tent (the kind often seen at outdoor weddings)—and then built another inside it.

“Tents are typically not very attractive,” Suomi said. “They’re characterless.” With the white tent offering protection, they had the freedom to create a unique space without worrying about the elements. Keeping the image of nomadic travelers in mind, the team used swagged drapery from the top to the floor and a pipe down the middle for chandeliers, and covered the whole floor with carpeting. “The idea of a tent represents the quintessential nomadic dwelling,” Suomi said. “We wanted to have the influence of that idea of the nomadic traveler.”

But because the tent is officially a temporary structure, and because New York City only allows permits for such structures that are valid for six months, the team had to create a space that could be quickly dismantled.

“When we were decorating the ceilings and walls, we stuck with fabrics that are easy to install and remove,” Suomi said. “They couldn’t be permanent.”