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Borrowed View | Apartment


Borrowed View in high-rise luxury apartments enhances the interior experience by making the city a constant reference.


Origins of Borrowed View. As traditional Asian buildings usually demonstrate a highly attuned concern for integration with their natural environment,1 contemporary interior designs in cities, consisting of more artificial environments made by humans, consider urban context and cityscapes.

In the well-known device as shakkei or “borrowed scenery,” in which a distant landscape is integrated into a garden composition, Japanese designers found a very different yet equally effective means of linking the tectonic to its natural context. This is achieved by a carefully designed frame located some distance from the viewer, which is usually of natural plant material. Trees and hedges are popular framing devices. The frame is positioned to trim away the raw view, obscuring many of the spatial depth clues that would normally indicate the true distance between the observer and the far-off landscape. This concealing of the intervening space has the effect of bringing the distant natural scene forward so as to appear part of the built foreground.2 The foreground, middle ground, and background planes are set up to create a strong relationship between the private garden (foreground), the framed or borrowed feature (middle ground) and the distant views of nature (background).3

Traditional Japanese architecture also incorporates the scenes with the inner spaces, which are the views of a castle or sacred mountain, capturing a scene by interior window frames. The Jiko-in of the Nara Prefecture is an example of the defining element of boundaries to be terminated at the clipped hedge. The end of the wooden floor and the eaves mark the edge of the building while the hedge marks the edge of the property. From the inside, one gazes out to the distant Yamato Mountains to view a scene connected to the outside natural world.4 The same apparent merging of nature and architecture was often evident in the relationship between gardens and the inner spaces.5 Watanabe House and its garden are merged as a single built entity.

Borrowed View in Luxury Apartments. The archetypical practice of Borrowed View in high-rise luxury apartments draws from some of the same techniques as traditional Japanese practices, but the significant view is often of a skyline or an important building, such as the Chrysler building in New York City. A curtain wall system allowed walls of apartments to become virtually transparent, leading to a heightened integration of interior and exterior views.6

However, small framing devices are rarely used, in favor of full-height window walls with minimal visual obstructions. In other words, Borrowed Scenery in an apartment is more akin to a raw view than a tightly framed one. Nevertheless, developers, designers, and realtors promote the Borrowed View as a highly desirable aspect of luxury apartment design. Consequently space planning and furniture arrangement are configured in such a way as to reap the full benefit of a magnificent scene provided by an apartment’s location and siting.

Architect Paul Rudolph made his Manhattan apartment remarkable through the use of full-height window walls overlooking the East River in New York City. The living room area opens through a whole glass window wall to the river. Rudolph eliminated the window frames except opening areas for maximizing the stunning riverside views. The borrowed view of the full-height window walls in this apartment not only takes the outside views into the inside moment by moment like a movie screen, but also makes the living room spacious, solving the drawback of low ceiling height.7

A window of the riverside New York apartment designed by Klein Stolzman, captures such a spectacular New York skyline that it looks like a framed photograph. Stolzman placed a window seat immediately below the window and draped diaphanous window coverings loosely around the window, further framing the view.8 The urban context becomes one of main interior spatial components, and the space is defined by the borrowed views the city provides.

In another Klein Stolzman design, the terrace of a New York apartment acts as an “urban porch”, an exterior space to enjoy views of Central Park. The steel-framed glass doors of the terrace are the middle frames for a view from the living room, while the art collection can be seen through them.9 Borrowed View establishes not only interior-exterior relationships, but also visual accessibility from one space to another—inside to outside or in a longer visual sequence, such as interior to interior to exterior.

It is Melbourne, Australia’s eastern suburbs that are the Borrowed View in a high rise apartment designed by Fender Katsalidis. A skeletal frame of continuous windows on three sides makes the view a panoramic one in which occupants experience changing light from sunrise to sunset. In this setting, distant towers become sculptural.10 The living area looks as if it floats in the above the city. One’s experience varies when viewing from a sitting or standing prospect.

Trade magazines record the practice from the 1970s to the present.11

end notes

  1. 1) Kazuo Nishi and Kazuo Hozumi, What is Japanese Architecture? (Tokyo and New York : Kodansha International, 1985), 10-11.
  2. 2) Kevin Nute, Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture (London: Routledge, 2004), 20-21.
  3. 3) Toshiro Inaji, The Garden as Architecture: Form and Spirit in the Gardens of Japan, China, and Korea (New York: Kodansha International, 1998), 41.
  4. 4) Masao Hayakawa, The Garden Art of Japan (New York: Weatherhill, 1974), 146.
  5. 5) Nute, Place, Time and Being, 22.
  6. 6) Curtain Wall: William Le Baron Jenney’s ten-story Home Insurance Company Building (1884–85) in Chicago was the first to use steel-girder construction; his skyscrapers were also the first to employ a curtain wall, an outer covering of masonry or other material that bears only its own weight and is affixed to and supported by the steel skeleton. Architects Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also designed glass curtain walls, a non-load-bearing “skin” attached to the exterior structural components of the building.
  7. 7) Living room, Manhattan Apartment [c1978] Paul Rudolph; New York City in “Record of Interiors of 1978,” Architectural Record (Jan. 1978): 77-79.
  8. 8) Matteo Vercelloni, Lofts & Apartments in NY (Milano: Edizioni l'Archivolto,1999), 156.
  9. 9) Vercelloni, Lofts & Apartments, 161.
  10. 10) Robyn Beaver, 50 of the World's Best Apartments (Australia: Images Publishing Group Pty, 2004), 197.
  11. 11) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Borrowed View in resort and spa was developed from the following trade magazines: 1970 Living Room [unknown date] Pual Rudolph; New York City in “Record of Interiors of 1978,” Architectural Record (Jan,1978): 77-79 / 1980 Metropolitan Tower Apartment [1980] Steven Holl Architects; New York City in James S. Russell, “Skin and Bones,” Architectural Record (May 1988): 122-127; Living Room [1989] Klein Stolzman; New York City in Matteo Vercelloni, Lofts & Apartments in NY (Milano: Edizioni l'Archivolto,1999), 161 / 1990 Study Room [date unknown] Roger Hirsch, Architect and Drew Souza; New York City in “All in the Family: Flatiron Residence,” Architectural Record (Jan. 1978): 102-107; Living Room [1993] Klein Stolzman; New York City in Matteo Vercelloni, Lofts & Apartments in NY, 156 / 2000 Living Room [date unknown] Fender Katsalidis Pty Ltd.; Melbourne, Australia in Robyn Beaver, 50 of the World's Best Apartments (Australia: Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd, 2004), 197; Carlton Ramsey Apartment [1989] Paul Brace Design; Sydney, Australia in Montse Borras, The New Apartment (New York: Universe, 2007), 298-305.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Kim, Najung.“Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Luxury Apartment Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2009, 119-127.