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Fear and Floating

San Francisco’s first skywalk is 12 feet long—and scares the hell out of houseguests.

One of the home’s owners admires the prospect from the infinity deck.

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A couple’s glass-floored deck thrills and terrifies in equal measure.

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As a concession to guests less comfortable confronting the glass cliff, architect Mark Jensen built an ipe wood deck on the first floor—with a glass guardrail, of course.

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On a clear day, the owners can see all the way to Stinson Beach from their living room.

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A bathroom pocket wall lets the owners soak in the tub while enjoying the view.

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There’s a reason that more people don’t have a glass observation deck attached to their home.

It’s awe inspiring, it’s dramatic, it’s... rather terrifying, actually, as the owner of this one—who asked to remain anonymous—has discovered. "About a third of our friends who come over are afraid to walk out onto the glass deck,” he says. “And even then, some of them will only walk on the steel girding."

Still, for those with the nerves to traverse it, this 12-by-7-foot cantilevered ledge above Twin Peaks can be a serene, dreamlike experience. The perch overlooks the entire North Bay, including the Golden Gate, Bay, and Richmond–San Rafael Bridges. By day, you can see all the way to Stinson Beach. At night, the perimeter is illuminated at the flip of a switch by color-changing LED lights. "It feels like you’re floating over the city," the owner says.

The project was a feat of structural engineering for architect Mark Jensen, who remodeled not only the deck but the entire back end of the home, including the living room, bedroom, and master bathroom. The difficulty isn’t in making such a balcony strong enough to withstand a party of adults, insists Jensen. It’s in stabilizing it "so it doesn’t feel bouncy, like a diving board," he says. To minimize any sensation of wobbling, the engineers supported the 1 1⁄2-inch-thick glass pane with steel beams that stretch 18 feet into the building.

The back end of the home is swathed in low-iron glass, an ultra-clear variety that doesn’t tint the surrounding cityscape. The marble-clad bathroom is bordered by a sliding pocket wall, and the spacious tub, set back just far enough from the glass to avoid exhibitionism, allows the owners to admire the urban scenery while they soak. "A lot of people have views in San Francisco," says Jensen with a shrug. "We wanted to put you in the view."


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco

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