ABOUT THE ARCHITECT:
John has been a practicing architect for over thirty years. He combines a passion for design with a deep knowledge of construction technologies, building codes, and project management.
John has taught a senior-level design studio at Cornell and has been a guest design critic at both Cornell and Parsons. John has designed a variety of award-winning public and private sector works that range in size from whole city blocks to small studio apartments. His resume includes dozens of cultural, educational, commercial, and residential projects, and is balanced between ground-up new construction and renovations. Guided by a belief that the best results are achieved when equal attention is paid to both concept and craft, his process is open, flexible, collaborative, and tailored to suit different clients’ particular needs.
ABOUT THE PROJECT:
Jersey City’s liveliest neighborhood is the Powerhouse Arts District. It’s no coincidence that luxury rental, The Lively, offering studios to three-bedrooms, is named so, given the breadth of cultural, recreational, and social activities taking place inside and outside the building. In fact, the Nimbus Dance Company is housed within the mixed-use podium and is situated behind a glass curtain wall along with a 150-seat black box theater, dance studio, rehearsal space, and triple-height lobby that doubles as an event space. The top floor of the tower is equally active and offers resort-like amenities, including a fitness room, communal dining space, library, game room, lounge, co-working space, children’s playroom, roof deck with pool and dining areas. The building is distinguished by its ivory brick and glass facade accented by a bronze frame motif. The façade exudes its own energy created by the multi-story window bands that are arranged in a syncopated pattern.
00;00;00;02 - 00;00;05;13
Doug Pat (DP)
Let's go inside the vault. The design vault.
00;00;05;15 - 00;00;34;07
John Zimmer (JZ)
And they had this requirement for the black box theater. You know, the project came with this with its approval, but it got a zoning bonus for having the theater in the base of extra height. It was a give back to the community that was written into the zoning. And we always knew it was going to be a theater and we always knew it was going to be for a nonprofit arts group.
And that arts program, as part of the building was in the DNA of the project from the very beginning and informed a lot of the decisions moving forward became part of the personality of the building throughout, not just the theater itself.
00;00;34;10 - 00;02;37;20
This is my guest, John Zimmer. I'll share more about him shortly. In this episode from The Design Vault, we highlight John's project in Jersey City, New Jersey, called The Lively. The Lively is a mixed use 18 story tower in Jersey City's Powerhouse arts district. The building features residential living situated above retail and public art spaces. The entry portals at the base define the black box theater and residential portions of the building.
Double and triple height lobbies open up to the street through curtained glass walls at the base. The building's deep and varied openings and bronze windows and frames give a wonderful complexity to an otherwise familiar building form. The structure features a custom white brick with darker mortar, which gives the edifice a warm residential appearance. The bricks well scaled modularity complements the organized and complex facade.
The project's esthetic and exterior elevations are reserved yet elaborate, familiar but novel, unpretentious, yet elegant. Hi, I'm Doug Pat and this is Design Vault. John is a partner and director at Fogarty Finger Architecture and Interiors in New York City. He's a graduate of Cornell University's School of Architecture. He's been practicing for over 20 years. He focuses on design, construction technologies, building codes and project management at the firm.
John spent the early part of his career in San Francisco. He later moved to New York City, where he worked for architectural firms and owned a small practice. He designed a wide variety of award-winning public and private sector works that range in size from studio apartments to city blocks. His resumé includes dozens of cultural, educational, commercial and residential projects and is balanced between new construction and renovations.
So welcome, John. Nice to have you with us today. So tell us a little bit about Fogarty Finger Architecture in New York City.
00;02;37;25 - 00;03;42;16
Sure. Thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here. So Fogarty Finger was founded just 20 years ago, pretty much on the nose. We're celebrating our 20th anniversary, and it was founded by two SOM alumni, one of whom Chris Fogarty was a kind of ground up corn shell guy at SOM. And the other Robert Finger was commercial interiors.
They got together and that basic structure has kind of defined the DNA of the firm ever since. It's very much a firm that offers both ground up architecture and interiors, and you'll find many firms that offer one or the other, but not both and not both in equal proportions. So our firm is very serious about both. The firm is about 130 people right now, has grown a lot in the last ten years.
The size of the projects has grown a lot, and I think that's a testament to the work we've been doing, but also the attitude of client service that comes initially from Chris and Robert and from SOM. just trying to deliver for our clients the product that they need while at the same time creating an architecture that satisfies us.
00;03;42;23 - 00;03;44;13
And what kind of projects do you guys take?
00;03;44;19 - 00;04;19;25
On the ground up side? We're happy to take a look at anything. Most of our portfolio is multi-family residential, although we have a handful of commercial office buildings as well. We do building repositioning on all the ground up stuff. We also offer the interiors as well on the commercial interior side, and I don't work on that side of the office, but they do work for some of the largest landlords in town and do both test fits and build the suit spaces.
There's a strong hospitality element developing, so really a multi-disciplinary practice looking at a lot of different project types.
00;04;19;27 - 00;04;21;12
And you guys have more than one office.?
00;04;21;19 - 00;04;27;06
We do. There's an office in Atlanta and also a small office in Boston as well.
00;04;27;10 - 00;04;29;11
And where are you guys located in New York City?
00;04;29;17 - 00;04;35;23
We're in Tribeca on Walker Street. Been there for ten years or so. Eight years, something like that.
00;04;36;00 - 00;04;38;09
So what's your role in the office currently?
00;04;38;11 - 00;04;53;05
So I'm a director. We are divided into somewhat of a studio system, a loose studio system, and there are two ground up studios. I lead one of them. I have a team of about 20 people. I'm involved in all aspects of the projects from day one to CFO.
00;04;53;07 - 00;04;58;14
Basically, I would imagine your hours are pretty long with people working for you.
00;04;58;16 - 00;05;05;12
They still are, although obviously there is a team of very hardworking people with me that put in even longer hours than I do.
00;05;05;14 - 00;05;12;08
So let's dig in and talk about the building. Tell us about The Lively in Jersey City. How did your office get the project?
00;05;12;10 - 00;05;50;20
The project had gotten a preliminary approval with a different owner and a different architect. The people that became our client, when they took on the project, looked at the planning and also the facades. But I would have to say more than anything, the planning of the building and thought it was problematic. It's a difficult site to do residential floorplans and it's got an acute corner there at one.
So, challenging site to get efficient residential layouts and we put an alternative plan in front of them that really increased the efficiency of the building and the commodious ness of the residential layouts, basically.
00;05;50;23 - 00;05;52;28
So it wasn't a competition to get the project?
00;05;53;06 - 00;05;59;16
It wasn't a competition, it was an invited RFP, But I think it was the strength of the proposal that we put forward that got us the job.
00;05;59;18 - 00;06;02;08
So could you give me a little history of the location?
00;06;02;11 - 00;06;55;27
Sure. The Powerhouse arts district in Jersey City is so named because there is a somewhat iconic Powerhouse there. It had been an industrial area that was targeted for redevelopment, and they had design standards for the entire district that were meant to maintain that character, not necessarily industrial, but loft style focus on the arts. The entire district has a strong focus on the arts, which is part of the reason we have the black box theater in the lively.
It's experienced a lot of new development over the course of the last decade and it's pretty great today. When I first started going over to the Powerhouse ten years ago. I get out of meetings and the sidewalks would be deserted. And today it feels like Brooklyn. It feels like the East Village. I mean, it is incredibly, for want of a better word, lively.
So it's a great neighborhood now, and it's all happened in the last decade. It's an exciting thing to have been a part of, honestly.
00;06;56;04 - 00;07;00;27
So scope of the project, what were the client's programmatic requirements?
00;07;01;00 - 00;07;57;24
Well, 180 residential units. Lennar is one of the biggest home builders in America, but they were mostly doing suburban subdivision work. They got into the urban markets. I can't tell you exactly one, but they were still a little bit new to it when we took this project on. And they were ambitious. They wanted to be at the absolute top of the market for a residential building in Jersey City.
And obviously, as any developer does, they wanted to maximize rentable square footage and get the most bang for their buck. And they had this requirement for the black box theater. And the project came with this with its approval, but it got a zoning bonus for having the theater in the base of extra height. It was a give back to the community that was written into the zoning, and we always knew it was going to be a theater and we always knew it was going to be for a nonprofit arts group.
And that arts program, as part of the building was in the DNA of the project from the very beginning and informed a lot of the decisions moving forward became part of the personality of the building throughout, not just the theater itself, really.
00;07;57;26 - 00;07;59;13
How long's the building been finished?
00;07;59;20 - 00;08;00;21
It's about two years.
00;08;00;24 - 00;08;02;07
Is the theater getting used?
00;08;02;09 - 00;08;03;10
It does, yeah.
00;08;03;13 - 00;08;10;11
That's great. So let's start with a site. I would imagine there are no unique topographic features. Relatively flat or. Or not?
00;08;10;17 - 00;08;36;02
Well, it's relatively flat. The unique topographic feature would be that it's below the 100 year flood elevation. That's always a big deal. And the sidewalks there, I think, are about five feet above sea level. So flood protection, resiliency, ground floor uses. How do you enter the building? How do you avoid nuisance flooding when it's not a 100 year storm?
Those were all big aspects of the design of the ground floor of the pedestrian experience.
00;08;36;05 - 00;08;37;17
So break away walls?
00;08;37;24 - 00;09;07;04
There are deployable flood barrier systems designed in. So the flood elevation is seven feet above the sidewalk. In the event of a massive, take a Hurricane Sandy kind of thing. They would deploy these flood barrier systems. Don't know if you're familiar with them, but they keep them in storage and they come out and they both enter the building or they spread them around the building.
They can be self-supporting and they have to be deployed in a certain amount of time because it's an emergency response system. So a big part of all the projects in this area.
00;09;07;09 - 00;09;11;20
And what about zoning code? You had mentioned you had a height issue.
00;09;11;22 - 00;09;54;13
Yeah. So the building got, I think, 65 additional feet for having the black box theater in it. That was one zoning aspect. You can see the cantilever here over the sidewalk. There was a sidewalk widening requirement in the zoning, so that made it obviously challenging. You've got 17 stories of residences coming down over a cantilever that allows the sidewalk to be wider at the base.
That was an interesting challenge. There's a little bit of parking in the building that came from the zoning. So obviously some structural challenges there as well. Whenever you're putting that many residences over the top of a parking garage. The second floor here that you see through the window, that is also designated art space in the zoning, also a requirement.
00;09;54;16 - 00;09;59;26
So I don't do tall buildings. How many extra floors does 65 feet get you?
00;09;59;29 - 00;10;26;28
I think it was basically five because the top floor amenity space, rooftop amenity, which was specifically permitted by the zoning bonus, I think it really made the building, the massing and the expression of these mid-range buildings is a little bit tricky. They're not as tall as they want to be, to be a tall building, and they're not as low rise as they want to be, to be a low rise building.
And I think the extra stories really helped to give it a little bit more verticality. It's a better piece of architecture for it.
00;10;27;01 - 00;10;30;19
So tell us about the building plan. You said there's a sharp corner.
00;10;30;21 - 00;11;14;06
Yeah, very acute corner. There's two lot lines and it has a corner lot. So right where you have your corner window with two exposures, there's a very acute corner and I can't remember the actual degrees, but anytime you have a building and it's not just a corner that's a problem. And in fact the corner isn't really a problem.
You may not be able to put a sofa in that corner, but the corner per se is not a problem. It's kind of a cool room to be inside of. But what it means is that the apartments on each of those two different streets are on different geometries. And so if you're going to have a rectilinear apartment on streets that are at such different geometries that all crashes into each other at the corner and at the corridors and at the courtyard.
So it becomes very challenging to plan buildings that feel sensible and projects that have this kind of site.
00;11;14;09 - 00;11;21;01
So how long do the planning process takes? So City Review design to construction, what was kind of start to finish?
00;11;21;04 - 00;11;31;17
I would say it was probably 14 months, maybe 15 months from RFP to groundbreaking, something in that range, which is kind of typical for a building this size.
00;11;31;19 - 00;11;33;17
And construction. How long did that last?
00;11;33;22 - 00;11;37;10
That was about 24 months, I think.
00;11;37;13 - 00;11;49;12
So let's talk a little bit about esthetics style. What did the client say to you? Did they have any ideas? Were they showing you images that they'd like, buildings that they wanted you to look at?
00;11;49;14 - 00;13;38;12
Our main client point of contact was also an architect, so he didn't want to impose a specific sensibility. He wanted to see what we would come up with in our office does this kind of work. We don't really do much historicist work. It's all modern. And in fact, a contemporary design is part of the zoning in the Powerhouse Arts District.
They're not looking for a recreation of a 19th century Main Street because that's not what this part of town ever was. From its get go, there was never any question it was going to be a contemporary building as far as where we drew our inspiration from and what we were looking at. You know, I mentioned the difficulty of the massing for these midnight buildings.
I think the gathering together, the window openings into these vertical slots helps to emphasize the verticality of the building. We have this prominent gold portal for the black boxes here and the building entrance. And that became an idea that we repeated throughout the facade frame, these moments on the facade. And I think generally we try to be pretty rigorous about how the facades are designed.
Obviously you've got structural continuity, but then you've got what always happens in residential design is you've got living rooms that are one width and you've got bedrooms that are a different width. And so a strictly rational grid is probably not going to serve you well for a residential building the way it does for a commercial building. So you're often trying to find a way to manage that if your interest is fundamentally in having a kind of rigorous and rational facade, you're trying to find a way to manage those partitions hitting the wall.
And what does that mean? And at the same time, I think creating a facade with movement and interest and dynamism and that play on the facade I think was always an important part. And you could say it is part of the emphasis on the arts and the theater and dance, but also obviously just an interest in creating something fresh.
00;13;38;15 - 00;13;40;27
So was there a city review of the esthetic?
00;13;40;29 - 00;14;04;29
There was, yeah. They loved it. They loved it from the get go. Honestly, it was great. I think the planning board there has seen a lot of different things and was quite happy to see a building that was elegant and carefully composed and well-made. I'm pretty sure we got a uniform unanimous vote of approval at the Planning Board and there were no negative comments about the esthetics.
00;14;05;01 - 00;14;08;20
What did you guys bring in? Did you bring in boards with images or 3D?
00;14;08;22 - 00;14;40;18
They weren't set up to have digital presentations back when this was going through. They are now obviously everyone, all of the local jurisdictions became fully digital because they had to. Back then it was easels and boards and you sat there with a couple of easels and flipped the pages and described what you were doing. And we had renderings certainly full 3D visualizations of the building that we presented and a palette of materials.
They're very interested. In fact, in Jersey City, they require you to bring the actual physical materials you intend to build with to the planning approval.
00;14;40;25 - 00;14;46;24
So why did you guys choose Brick? You probably could have used another material for the exterior facade.
00;14;46;27 - 00;16;37;10
We could have certainly. You know, there's many things we do do facades out of lots of different materials, obviously. But for residential buildings in particular, I think the scale and the intimacy of brick are a sure way to give the building a residential character. It makes people both potential tenants and non tenants on the street and everyone have a very warm response to Brick almost instinctively.
It's one of those things that the mind already knows, right? People respond to it quite well. I think the flexibility of brick was part of it for this. Obviously that acute corner right there is a custom shape. You can just do that in brick, right? You can just say, okay, I've got a corner that is 72 degrees and you just do it.
You just make it. So that part of it I think is pretty great. And the flexibility, the color in this particular case, this is a custom colored brick, semi-custom. We had a lot of flexibility. It's a coated brick. So we had a lot of flexibility with the coating and coming up with the exact color that we wanted, which was a lot of trial and error.
There were actually months of back and forth and getting it just right. And, you know, I do think color is incredibly important and you can spend a year and a half designing a building and two years building it, and then you get the color wrong and all anyone sees is the fact that the color is wrong. So it's incredibly important to get right.
It allowed us to do that. You know, if you're going to do a porcelain, here are the three porcelain, you know, and this is what you're going to get. It also helps in the way brick turns corners. We wanted to have these gold shrouds in some areas and not in others that frame certain openings Doing returns in window openings in brick is incredibly easy because it's a brick.
You just turn the corner in porcelain or terracotta or other materials. It becomes quite difficult. Is it just a shadow gap at the corner or is it two flat panels coming together to meet? So I think having that ease of turning corners supported the design concept of these intermittent gold shrouds.
00;16;37;17 - 00;16;40;18
Now, was that correct? The window frames are bronze?
00;16;40;21 - 00;16;43;24
With a painted aluminum, but yeah, they're bronze colored.
00;16;43;26 - 00;16;46;29
There are a series of framed out window openings as well.
00;16;47;01 - 00;16;47;17
00;16;47;18 - 00;16;49;01
And what material is that?
00;16;49;03 - 00;16;53;27
That's also aluminum. Okay. Yeah. We have yet to do a building with actual sheet bronze.
00;16;53;29 - 00;16;56;12
When I read it, I was like, Is that just the color?
00;16;56;16 - 00;17;06;01
Which is the great thing though, actually is color is usually free if you're going to do something out of aluminum, the one thing you can afford to do is change the color.
00;17;06;03 - 00;17;20;23
That's a great point. Colors free. What I really like about this and the use of masonry is it afforded you the ability to make some of these window openings really deep? Yeah, it's really beautiful, especially with curtain, wall, glass. I mean, it's really pretty.
00;17;20;26 - 00;17;48;09
I think you get that play of light and shadow, you know, in a curtain wall building, you're struggling to get a couple of inches of depth, right. The economics of that and the construct ability of that are unrelenting, but between the depth of a brick cavity wall automatically gets you seven or eight inches and then he shrouds project, I forget, but let's just say it's another six or seven inches. Now you've got 15, 16 inches of depth, which creates a wonderful shadow on the facade and really helps to punctuate the facade.
00;17;48;11 - 00;17;54;06
That kind of plays into my next question. So what were some of the unique construction details on this building?
00;17;54;13 - 00;18;20;10
Yeah, certainly the shrouds, I think you see them more now. I think they were less common when we first did them. They are quite deep, which made the attachment to the building. I'm like say more difficult, but it had to be done differently. A lot of times these will be clipped on to the window extrusion and the window manufacturer can simply provide them.
You know, obviously the wind wants to tear these things off of the building. So there's a decent amount of load on these that required some careful detailing around the attachments of them.
00;18;20;13 - 00;18;23;15
So there's some structure on the interior that gets tied back.
00;18;23;17 - 00;19;13;03
Yeah. These buildings basically go back to structural studs as opposed to the window and there's a heavy-duty anchor clip extends into the shroud that helps to make it rigid and attach it to the building. These deep soffits at the overhangs, you know, obviously something that had to be looked at fairly carefully. Generally speaking, a brick cavity wall is a well known thing.
Builders know how to build it, architects know how to detail it. But when you start introducing these kinds of deep shrouds, the corner windows in order to make those successful, what the window manufacturers want you to do is take a big square window and put it next to a big square window and all of a sudden your corner window has 12 inches a middle in the middle of it, and it looks like a column instead of a window.
And so detailing that to make it keep the sightlines narrow and keep it elegant, that was a detail in challenge that took a lot of time making sure the flood protection doesn't become too intrusive. That's a detail challenge. There were a handful of things.
00;19;13;05 - 00;19;15;21
And what about sustainability for the building?
00;19;15;23 - 00;19;49;09
Well, it's a P-TECH building, P-TECHS are the the through wall air conditioners. They're environmentally not great. So starting from that, you have a difficult time making it the most sustainable building in the world. Unfortunately, electric P-TECHS, but there are other green features in the building. Certainly you see this in a lot of buildings at this point, but a super efficient lighting, formaldehyde free, no off gassing materials, locally sourced brick, natural material, locally sourced green roof, significant stormwater management features. It's not a leader in environmental design.
00;19;49;09 - 00;19;53;09
Sure it is. I was I guess I was wondering if it was something that the city was looking for.
00;19;53;15 - 00;20;00;06
It was not a requirement, but I think there's enough consciousness about it at this point that people want to incorporate these features if they can.
00;20;00;09 - 00;20;03;24
So when you consider the building, you're working in 2D and 3D.
00;20;03;29 - 00;20;08;14
Yeah. So this was drawn in AutoCAD. We weren't working in Revit back when this was first drawn.
00;20;08;14 - 00;20;09;15
Are you now in Revit?
00;20;09;18 - 00;20;22;07
We are, yeah. We model absolutely everything, but we would do that mostly in SketchUp, Google, SketchUp, and that would be a parallel. You know, you would be doing both. You'd be modeling it SketchUp and drawing it in 2D AutoCAD at the same time.
00;20;22;09 - 00;20;24;26
So you guys haven't been in Revit for a long than?
00;20;24;28 - 00;20;25;07
Couple of years.
00;20;25;07 - 00;20;34;25
The more people I talk to, I'm an ArchiCAD working in 2D and 3D. I never learned Revit. I was lucky to learn how to use a computer, frankly. I mean.
00;20;34;28 - 00;20;44;23
Yeah. So, I mean, I don't know Revit, but the team does. I certainly learned AutoCAD along the way and micro station randomly enough. I don't even know if that's still around, to be honest.
00;20;44;26 - 00;20;49;25
I don't know either. But most of the people that come through here are on Revit.
00;20;49;25 - 00;20;51;23
Yeah, it feels like a done thing.
00;20;51;26 - 00;20;54;08
So do we see any masonry on the interior of the building?
00;20;54;13 - 00;21;28;21
Not in the interior walls. I will say one thing, since this is Brick works, the client led the decision that anything people could see from their windows would also be brick. So the interior courtyards, a lot of times what you see is brick on the facades and EFIS or something like that, something cheaper on the interior elevations or the lot line elevations, the courtyard facades are brick.
We have like, well, that's all brick because the client wanted to make sure that any time someone was looking out a window, what they saw was brick and they were happy to pay for it. They felt quite strongly that that's what it needed to be.
00;21;28;24 - 00;21;42;29
So John, you've been in New York City for quite some time. You worked for a number of firms, including having your own office at one time. What advice might you give a younger version of yourself now that you know it?
00;21;43;01 - 00;22;07;09
Now that I know everything, I think you go, your heart leads you. There are so many ways to be an architect. There's not just one way and there's not one right way. And I see over and over again that people find ways that make them happy to do this job. And I do my thing. Other people do their thing.
There's not one answer. And don't be afraid to not pursue that other answer for yourself.
00;22;07;11 - 00;22;33;02
Yeah, it's interesting too, what you learn in school and then what you learn as a practicing architect. You can take those skills and do an awful lot of things that aren't just architecture. I say that a lot. I have a teaching YouTube channel and I've been talking about that for years. We learn how to do so many things and you got to do so many things well and you've got to know so many things about so many things, right? It's a really challenging business and you're always learning.
00;22;33;02 - 00;22;59;06
The synthesizing of a lot of different pieces of information, I think is a skill that has broad application, and looking at things from a design perspective is an exceedingly rare quality out there in the world that I think has broad application. So it's great to be trained as an architect even if you don't stick with it. And look, I've always loved it.
I would encourage young people to stay in the profession because it's a great thing to do with your life, but people make their own choices.
00;22;59;08 - 00;23;07;13
Well, John, it's been great to have you here. Thanks so much for your time. Where can people go to learn more about Fogarty Finger Architecture and Interiors and yourself?
00;23;07;16 - 00;23;20;04
Go to our website for sure. FogartyFinger.com, and look at our portfolio and there's all kinds of interesting information there. Of course, we have an Instagram page and every other thing that's available out there in the world to learn about a firm. You can find it online.
00;23;20;06 - 00;23;22;02
Well, great, John, thank you very much for being here.
00;23;22;08 - 00;23;26;26
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
You May Also Be Interested In
We Can Help With Your Next Project
Discover the latest + greatest in design trends, industry news & pro tips from pros.
For all of your project needs, you’ll find everything you need at a Supply Center.
Let Us Know How We Can Help!