On Anniversary of Landmarks Law, Modern Structures Make Room (Jorge Mastropietro, AIA)


Can innovative modern buildings serve as harmonious neighbors in historic neighborhoods? Absolutely, says New York-based architect and developer Jorge Mastropietro, AIA — as long as they adhere to fundamental design principles.

Among the strategies Mastropietro recommends are employing sympathetic patterns and materials and adhering carefully to the overall scale of the older surroundings. Architects and their clients should also explore the potential for contemporary infill construction, which can help close gaps and create visual continuity along a street frontage.

Founding principal of New York-based firm Jorge Mastropietro Architects Atelier (JMA), Mastropietro recently applied these strategies to a pair of new and decidedly modern townhouse projects in the Downtown Historic District of Jersey City, N.J.:

JMA.93 Bright Street

At 93 Bright Street, features a brick facade on its lower three stories, connecting it visually to the surrounding old brick walkups. A stepped-back fourth floor with an aluminum facade adds square footage while subtly bridging the gap between neighboring buildings of differing heights.

JMA.54 Bright Street

Down the street at 54 Bright Street, the new structure fills an unused lot and combines brick and wood facades in a way that serves as a complementary, modern gesture to the existing buildings. The cornice line, for example, matches those of its neighbors while also serving as the railing for a green roof.

“We’ve found that using similar property line setbacks, fenestration patterns, and height-to-width ratios, as well as contextually abundant materials, are all great ways to integrate a new building into a historic neighborhood,” says Mastropietro, who brings deep experience building in historic districts, and is a valuable source on the topic. “Ultimately, the result should be a building that’s of its own time yet complements and improves the context and inspires future projects to meet the same standards of design.”

With this week marking the 50th anniversary of New York’s seminal Landmarks Law, says Mastropietro, “It’s an appropriate time to highlight the value of preserving our traditional urban fabric while also adding contrast and visual interest to historic city blocks.”