Friday, December 19, 2014

The City Designs

In our preview post Preserving Reminders of the Past we talk about the architectural intervention in old structures and how this can improve both the building and its context.

The city is our context and it is changing every day. It is a dynamic organization that whether we try to organize it by setting rules and laws, at the end of the day it is uncontrollable. I think that is what makes cities interesting for painters, writers and film makers.

Over the past five hundred years, urban planners tried to design what they called Ideal Cities. From Thomas Moro and his Utopia to Le Corbusier and F. L. Wright, many architects spent their lives thinking about how a city should be like. Some of those thoughts remain and a few were brought to reality. Palmanova, in the north east of Italy, is a good example of a typical renaissance concentric city. Its structure and internal organization did not change over the years so it is possible to see what these perfect cities looked like.However, if there is something we have learnt from ideal cities is that there is no such thing as perfection when talking about cities.

In the last decades, some architects started rethinking how to bind together old buildings with contemporary interventions. Some of the best examples are the Tate Mordern Gallery (London), the Morgan Library (New York), the Caixa Forum (Madrid) and the Reichstag (Berlin). These are masterpieces of linking different materials, concepts and programs, but sometimes, the city goes beyond architects and clients and does it for itself.

Designing a glass box over an industrial brick structure is a well-known strategy and it seems that the city of New York can link its own elements. Close to our office (SoHo) is the Trump Soho building, a geometric glass skyscraper that does not represent the neighborhood identity at all. However, behind this building, in the same block, rests a former industrial brick structure which has no additions or subtractions but has the typical SoHo image.

These two constructions are not related in any sense and they were not meant to be so. But the city is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Thus, while walking down the streets we change our perspectives and sometimes the city offers us more than what architects had designed. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18th, 1991 was the day that I become an architect. Today 23 years later, if I'd had to choose a path, I would still choose to become an Architect.
Being an architect is not just having a degree. It is the way you see the world, it is a way of living. In 23 years, I built more than 300,000 sf. and more than 300 families are living in homes that I created.
I did and I still continue to do my work with love, passion, and gratitude. 

On this day, I'd like to thank all of those who trusted me! 

Jorge Mastropietro.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The building does not end at the façade

When someone thinks about a building the first image that usually pops up is the façade. But what is really a façade? The simplification that we normally come across is that it's the main surface seen by the street. In many buildings it is easy to define the façade and the limit between the street and the private (or interior) space. Nevertheless, there are some other buildings that provide different perceptions to pedestrians and a closer relation to their environment.

Our cities are full of careless buildings whose only aim seems to be to impress and to sell a one-time-only idea. As we mentioned in previous posts, these constructions do not interact with their surroundings and, consequently, do not interact with people. On the other hand, some buildings set out interesting situations where the actual limits between the construction and the city get blurry.

Abteiberg Museum, Monchengladbach.

Hans Hollein

Therme Vals, Vals.
Peter Zumthor

That blurred area is what makes the difference, and the main character (usually) is the façade. Therefore, talking about the façade as a space upgrades the discussion to a three-dimension issue and architecture is sometimes represented in only two dimensions. The moment that we think of a three dimensional element, the façade turns from a plane face to real architecture. There are many examples where it is really difficult to determine the exact limit of the building, but this becomes less important when the building allows us to talk about public space, the street and the interior space as much more than a mere room.

Hans Hollein’s Abteiberg Museum, in Monchengladbach, is an excellent example of architecture breaking its own limits and improving the neighborhood. The goal of this project is far beyond the programmatic solution and the innovative interior design. The way Hollein designed the upper plaza in relation with the existing park, and the way the visitor approaches the building is fabulous, a real architectural promenade

Opera House, Oslo.


Also in Peter Zumthor’s thermes in Vals and in the Norwegian Opera House by Snohetta, it is barely impossible to say which is the main façade or even if there is a common façade. In both cases, nature (the fields and the water) is the main character and the architecture doesn't just build a shape but transforms it into a better place to be.

This does not mean that a façade should always be so complex; however, simple decisions can affect our perception of a building. All these reflections make us think that when we design a normal façade we are changing a little part of the city, and in comparison to other disciplines' interventions, ours might last longer.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Typical Fire Escape Stair, 

Sometimes stairs seem to be a problem for a good design, however, throughout history great architects made the most of them. From Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library to Asplund’s Law Court stairs, this architectural element has come to the center of discussion and design. In 2014’s Venice Biennale, curator Rem Koolhaas decided to work on the Fundamentals of architecture. Some of these elements had been forgotten by being regarded through parametric design or super modern ways of understanding life. Whether considered through religious ideas of ascension or mathematical concepts of proportion, stairs are not only used to connect two different stories but also as an aesthetic component or a story teller.

Laurentian Library, Florence.
Law Courts, Gothenburg.
Gunnar Asplund

In New York City, stairs have always been a representative element and continue to inspire architects and artists to this day. The fire escape stairs were not built for any aesthetic reason but it is impossible to imagine a hundred-year building in SoHo without them. Over the last decades, many architects have been working in this neighborhood with the same element in different and innovative ways. Heatherwick and Koolhaas designed two of the most interesting stores in the city, Longchamp (2006) and Prada (2001), respectively. In these cases, the stair is not just a mean to rise above two different levels but a component that defines the entire space and makes architecture interact with the products for sale and the visitor.

Being contemporary is not just using avant-garde materials but using them with a contemporary thought of space, living and always looking back to history to have a proper vision of the future.

Awaji yumebutai, Awaji.
Tadao Ando
Itamary Palace, Brasilia.
Oscar Niemeyer


Longchamp Store, SoHo, NYC.

Prada Store, SoHo, NYC.
Rem Koolhaas

Thursday, December 11, 2014

56 Leonard Construction

On the walk along Canal Street from the Subway to work, I have been able to watch 56 Leonard, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, as it progresses in construction.  It has about 1/3 of its height left to be built before it reaches its final 821 feet and because of its location and unique design, will be a prominently visible landmark in Lower Manhattan.  

56 Leonard from Canal St

The design features tapering boxes near the top of the building and balconies dynamically protruding from the facade.  It will feature a large public sculpture outside the lobby by Anish Kapoor, famous for the Chicago Millenium Park bean sculpture.  Each unit interior is custom designed by the famous Swiss firm and despite high price tags for the units, all but 2 have been sold. 

Interior Rendering

Exterior Rendering

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fulton Center

Although just completed in about twice the amount of time and amount of money as originally planned, Fulton Center is now open and gives NYC another beautiful station to go along with Grand Central and the still under construction World Trade Center PATH station.  The center occulus filters light into the depths of the station in a grand contrast to most of the current claustrophobic stations that lack natural light that commuters have to traverse each day.  While it is obviously not without its problems (the connection from the A-C to the J is still a bit awkward),  it is an inspiring interior space that makes a subway commute just a little bit more enjoyable.        

Monday, October 27, 2014

Top of the Rock

Atop Rockefeller Center in the Top of The Rock Observation Deck.

From the windy 68th floor observation deck, one can walk to a panoramic view of New York City.  To the southwest the view is dominated by the iconic Empire State Building, with the flickering lights and spire-topped towers of Times Square apparent further toward the southwest.  Beyond Midtown and rising above Lower Manhattan, One World Trade Center reaches to the highest point in North America.  

Visible to the northeast is the expanse of Central Park and the new trend of residential skyscrapers, the tallest of which (so far) was designed by Rafael Vinoly and just recently topped out in height.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

About SoHo

SoHo.  As most New Yorkers know this is a charming low-rise shopping and commerce district located SOuth of HOuston Street.  It is a step back to the early reaches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with quaint cafes offering outdoor seating, boutique clothing shops, and narrow streets in comparison to the wide avenues and huge superblocks as you traverse north into the Manhattan street grid.

SoHo's roots lie in textiles and manufacturing, with many of these structures remaining and re-purposed as unique office spaces with high ceilings and exposed brick, now adapted and suited for tech and design companies.

Our building at 137 Varick still shows an advertising remnant of the past.  Once housing a paper company, the building now comprises a diverse collection offices for architects, contractors, web developers, stock traders, publishers and more.

Friday, September 26, 2014

New building???

New building coming soon? It seems an old building coming soon.
Why do some architects design buildings based on the old style?
I strongly believe that a building must represent their own time. We are in a new century.
Old buildings are beautiful because were built in past, with old techniques.
We CAN NOT keep buildings that look old.
This is a perfect example

Friday, September 19, 2014

Preserving Reminders of the Past

While land values skyrocket and the need for high-occupancy commercial and residential projects puts pressure on the Manhattan's low rise buildings, and buildings are being ripped down slowly, but surely, we are gradually losing a piece of the physical representation of our past.  

As architects, we are excited by development and new construction but we have to be aware of the cost.  There are some methods to preserve a part of the past, while still building at a size to meet today's unprecedented demands.

Here are a few bad and good examples.

Penn Station

The Midtown West train station once rivaled and possibly exceeded Grand Central Terminal in grandeur.  The beautiful, classic station was demolished in favor of a smaller, modern facility tucked under a new sports arena (Madison Square Garden).  One of the most frequented gateways to the city that was once a grand monumental entrance, became a crowded, claustrophobic experience in a station that is now ridiculed and dreaded by travelers.  Virtually nothing was preserved as a reminder of what once was.  One positive result of this scenario was the increase in awareness for Historic Preservation Societies, saving countless other buildings from the same fate in the name of "progress."  

Hearst Tower

This high-rise commercial building for the Hearst Corporation, replacing their old much smaller headquarters on the same site.  Norman Foster was commissioned to expand their space into a much larger tower.  The original 1928 cast-stone facade was braced while the interior was demolished. This preserved facade was then incorporated into the new 2006 design, creating a dynamic juxtaposition between the old and the new and implying a concept of the new growing from out of the past.  

Tate Modern

Now the most visited modern art gallery in the world, the Tate Modern in London is housed in the former Bankside Power Station.  This adaptive reuse, gave the building a whole new program life while retaining a majority of the former facility.  Additions are small, subtle, and respective of the overall architecture of the structure.

As you can see, there are examples of successful adaptive reuse of outdated structures.  The benefits include not only the preservation of the past, but conserve valuable resources by avoiding demolition and new construction from the ground up.    

Photo Sources:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introducing Myself

Bonjour, Je m’appelle Clayton. I have been working as a Junior Architect here at JMA since November 2013.  I was born in Kansas City and lived there (or very near to) for most of my life. After attending Northwest Missouri State University for Bachelor’s degrees in both Business Management and Marketing, I continued my education to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an architect.  I enrolled at the University of Kansas where I studied (very intensively) for 3 and a half years to earn my Master’s in Architecture.  Fortunately, KU Architecture enforces a mandatory study abroad for all students.  I chose to attend a month-long study in East Asia, specifically South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Macau.  Getting to know the food, the culture, the people, the architecture was all part of the unforgettable experience.  From there my love of travel was born.  My final year, I elected to finish school in Paris, France.  There I studied Architecture, Urban Design and a bit of French at École Nationale Supérieure d’architecture de Paris-Val de Seine (whew!).  Then, I had the incredible opportunity to work for a fantastic French Architecture Firm on a competition, where I was able to gain my first experience working in a firm.  After experiencing much of Europe working, studying, and traveling I was forced to return to the U.S. because of my impending visa expiration.  Upon returning, I worked for 7 months back home in Kansas City in a small architecture firm.  There I gained further experience in Construction Drawings, Construction Details, Site Surveying, and Adaptive Reuse.  I made the decision to move to New York City to join JMA and I couldn't be happier!  I value the ability to learn on-site and in studio at JMA in all aspects of design and construction.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

why I believe in Passive Architecture

“I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  There, the summers were naturally hot and sweltering. While the temperatures did descend in winter months, it wasn’t so cold and the humid air still endured.  My family and I lived in a traditional, vernacular Buenos Aires home in the center of the city.  It dated from the 1800’s and was what we called a ‘Casa Chorizo.’   

Reflecting back on my childhood in that house, what I most remember is most always feeling comfortable within and the fresh fragrance of jasmine and azaleas in the luminous courtyard.  With cross-ventilation, the house stayed pleasantly fresh and cool, even though we didn't have air conditioning or ceiling fans.

Things changed when I moved into an apartment in a brand new building.  It was in a beautiful neighborhood of Buenos Aires with sweeping views across the metropolis.  However, this building did not offer the same refreshing experience that my childhood home did.  With the sun blasting into the large windows, the space became unbearable in the summer. I had to install blinds over the windows and an air conditioner which remained on 24 hours a day.  My beautiful view of the city was now shrouded in white fabric and I longed for the natural summer breezes.    

While this was an unpleasant experience, it helped me realize how much of an impact a building’s design can have on its inhabitants.  Now I understood more about my childhood home.  The thick walls produced an exceptional insulation.  The transom windows above the doors and windows pushed warm air across and out of the building.  The veranda provided a buffer from the high summer sun, but allowed the low winter sun to project light into the bedrooms, and grape vines growing above provided a handsome shading for the space below.    

An efficient design means responding to local climate and site conditions to maximize building users’ comfort and wind to provide household heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting, thereby reducing or removing the need for mechanical heating or cooling. Using passive design can reduce temperature fluctuations, improve indoor air quality and make a home drier and more enjoyable to live in.

This is why I passionately believe that architects should design buildings with comfort and resource-efficiency in mind.” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Boulevards of Paris and the U.S. Interstates

The wide, open tree-lined Boulevards cut through the ancient fabric of the old city, once called "Lutecia" by the Romans.  They ripped through Paris under the pretense of beautifying and modernizing the city, but there were also military advantages.  Troops could march the boulevards to quell uprisings.

Contrast this to 1950's America.  With national defense as a guiding factor and the rising popularity of the automobile, highways are beginning to cut through urban centers. This dissected once vibrant neighborhoods, and destroyed walkability.  It happened across the country and my hometown of Kansas City was no exception.  The 'Downtown Loop' while convenient for drivers, is still a burden on the urban fabric of the city.  The neighborhoods carved are but a semblance of their former selves and are just beginning to improve half a century later.  Proposals have come forward to 'Cap the Loop' by hiding it with a park which does seem like a perfect remedy to the situation, but could you imagine anyone ever wanting to hide the Champs-Élysées? 

Now, the U.S. Interstate highways are much different from the beautiful boulevards of Paris.  But Paris did something else right. Where highspeed thoroughfares are needed, Paris went underground and away from the city center to do so.  This prevented the destruction of neighborhoods and street life.  Yes there are cost implications, but it makes you wonder how much business was lost by destroying or isolating whole neighborhoods that never recovered with the method the U.S. chose.      


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Construction in Historic Districts

Building in Historic Districts can be a challenging, yet rewarding undertaking.  The following is a quote from the National Parks System from 1967, but still remains true:

 “… a modern addition should be readily distinguishable from the older work; however, the new work should be harmonious with the old in scale, proportion, materials, and color (Dilsaver,1994).”

In other words, a new building should be discernible as a new construction, but it should be designed using ratios, patterns, and materiality that allow it to become a harmonious part of its context.  Done right, contemporary urban infill projects can fill voids and provide a unique contrast within historic city blocks.    

The following are some considerations to designing new construction in historic districts.  As an example, we will use our recently completed Jersey City project at 93 Bright Street.

Site, Setting, and Height 

Although there are some voids in the streetscape, there remains a fairly consistent street wall.  A proposed building should be set at the front property line to maintain this condition.  Design decisions can be lead and subsequently justified by using lines and proportions from neighboring buildings.  In the diagram below, the brick massing is flush with the property line in plan.  In elevation, the top of the brick form matches with the neighboring building’s cornice.  The taller, recessed aluminum façade then adds an additional floor to the building while bridging the height gap between its immediate neighbor and the height of the tallest neighbor on the opposite side.

Façade Openings

Openings and fenestrations are a simple way to make a new building congruent with the historic context.  Again, it is important to look at proportions and patterns from the immediate surroundings to help guide the design.  The heights and sizes of the openings should be designed with consideration and relation to its neighbors.      

At 93 Bright it was decided to make the windows appear vertical to match the existing window shapes, but they are actually wide horizontal bays that allow in much more natural light.  The bays are disguised with wood screens to make the bay appear as separate vertical-oriented windows.  At street level a store front concept was borrowed and adapted from a local building.      


Scale is a very apparent feature for the pedestrian.  In the proper scale, the building will seamlessly mesh with its surroundings.  Done poorly, the building will distract, perhaps overwhelm and be detrimental to the district's character.  Height-to-width ratios should be considered for suitable scale.  A square facade of equal height and width will have a height-to-width value of 1.  A value above 1 implies verticality and conversely, a value under 1 signifies horizontality (See example below).


Often times when building in a historic district, you may have to use the predominant material used throughout.  Decisions can still be made with regards to level of articulation in order to make the project unique from its older neighbors.  With this project, we decided to use the principal material, which in this case was brick.  It was accented with wood and aluminum, which could be found sparsely throughout the immediate area.  The level of ornament on the façade was simplified to serve as a complementary, modern gesture to the existing buildings.  You can borrow a material from the context and still have the ability to design your building.     


In the end, it is crucial to do your research and address the necessary considerations in order to build in historic districts.  While historic districts can be restrictive and challenging, once the limiting factors have been identified, solving them with innovative design can be quite a fulfilling process.  The final result should be a building that complements and improves the context and inspires future projects to meet the same high standards of design. 

Dilsaver, L. M. (1994). Administrative Policies for Historic Areas. America's national park system: the critical documents (). Lanham, Md.: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers.  


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

JMA is excited to welcome Aldo to the team!

We would like to introduce Aldo Companiolo, our new Construction VP. We are thrilled to have him and his immense experience in the construction field with us at JMA. Elsewhere, Aldo has held numerous other positions such as: Vice President of Operations, Owner’s Representative, Purchasing Director, Business Development Manager, and Site Safety Manager.

Aldo has acquired over 20 years of experience in construction management in the NY/NJ area working his way up from his beginnings as a carpenter. He has now successfully overseen all phases of construction in a vast array of project types and scales for some of the largest construction management firms in the country and alongside some of the largest and most renown architecture firms in the world.

He has excelled in implementing tactics and scheduling that improve efficiency throughout the construction process. His background in construction allows him to account and prepare for all activities required during construction, avoiding costly changes and ensuring the architectural concept is maintained. With this strategic planning, supervision, and value engineering, he strives to improve efficiency and quality, ultimately resulting in higher client satisfaction. We are certain that Aldo’s knowledge and expertise will further assist JMA in its quest to become the most exceptional full-service design-build architecture firm possible.

Some of the notable projects under his supervision include:

  • Foley Square Federal Building 
  • Grand Central Terminal Renovation 
  • JFK Airport Renovation 
  • Rutgers Stadium Renovation 
  • Floyd Bennett Field Renovation 
  • Museum of Natural History Addition for Hayden Planetarium  
  • Kings County Hospital Addition 
  • FedEx Ground Shipping Facility 
  • LEED Certified School

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

JMA's New Office

JMA has completed the move into our new office in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan! The area is buzzing with commerce from businesses large and small. In our building alone, there are tech startups, urban designers, architecture firms, stock traders, app designers, and printing services. The variety of firms working in this area are what make it such a distinct and special place in Manhattan. The space is blanketed in natural light throughout the day, which complements the white interior and allows us to minimize use of artificial lighting. We do encourage energy efficiency and sustainability, so what better place to start than our office?! To contrast the nearly all-white interior, we use orange accents throughout. As you enter, you face an orange accent wall behind the metal-clad reception desk.
The conference room is used for client, contractor, and team meetings. The glass marker board stretches from wall-to-wall and allows us to draw and hang content for our meetings. It will also be able to be reserved by our fellow tenants for their use.
Our studio work-space is bordered by an exposed brick wall with large windows. They provide us with a view of the surrounding buildings and the activity on Varick Street. There is an abundance of storage in shelves and cabinets throughout. We also designed in plenty of counter space to sketch out our ideas.
The dedicated model shop will produce more of these in the near future:
JMA is thrilled to be in Manhattan amongst such great talent and excitement. It truly is a remarkable place to work and to be apart of. If you are interested in working in a flexible, creative-collaborative space, we currently have a few desks available and we LOVE working with designers and those in other creative industries. Inquire at 646-248-6664.