“Project Reclaim” set urban revitalization in motion in Jersey City’s MLK Drive neighborhood. The project involved gut renovation of a quintessential Bank building and a new office building on two adjacent lots. The entrance to this project was marked by two minimalist pillars inspired by Indian architecture.
Entrance pillars at the Sun Temple at Modhera, India 2
Urban revitalization in Jersey City NJ
When I decided to establish an architectural practice in Jersey City NJ, I was well aware of Kevin Lynch’s celebrated book on The Image of the City, where he described Jersey City as a city characterized by “formlessness of space and a compete confusion of an uncoordinated street system.”1 I was committed to do what I could to turn things around. As I travelled the city, I realized that while there was a lot of emphasis on reviving the waterfront, many areas in the city were neglected. One such area was the MLK Drive neighborhood which was characterized by years of disinvestment, crime, and poverty. It was ready for urban revitalization. I began meeting with stakeholders and learned that while city had donated several buildings to local non-profits, they were having trouble turning dilapidated properties into usable buildings.
The Urban League of Hudson County, Inc.
One such non-profit was the Urban League of Hudson County, which had received the old First Fidelity bank building at 253 MLK Drive from the city but had struggled for three years to develop it. As a nonprofit social service agency with a mission to provide equal access to its community-based programs, the Urban League needed a headquarters building where it could consolidate services. I offered to work with them with an understanding that fees for architectural services would be paid from the funds raised for the project. After reviewing their programmatic needs, we realized that the corner bank building would not be enough for their needs and that they would need additional space. We approached the city and asked for additional lots to be donated to the Urban League and were successful in securing a total of three lots. Once the schematic design was developed, we helped the Urban League solicit funds from the city and other sources.
“Project Reclaim” in Jersey City
Corporate headquarters with unique identity
The Urban League wanted to create a contemporary building as a symbol to the community and investors about what was possible in the neighborhood. This project quickly became a complex architectural challenge involving rehabilitation, preservation and building addition. The design needed to respect the scale and quality of the original structure while accommodating new architectural features. The design also needed to harmonize the new structure without imitating the materials or form of the existing bank structure.
A smart entrance inspired by Indian Architecture
The decision was made to create a new entrance from the MLK Drive adjacent to the Bank structure by creating a small semi-public entrance court. The community members needed to feel at home and could gather here to exchange news and information. Two minimalist entrance pillars inspired by the Indian architecture would not only mark the main entrance but would also serve as skylights to illuminate lower floor areas, and would provide fresh air intake for building’s mechanical system. In addition, they would serve as bulletin boards where local artists could display their artwork.
Artwork on entrance pillars by local artists
Smart Growth Award from NJ Future
The project received Smart Growth Design Award from NJ Future. It was a remarkable project that synthesized sustainable community development, urban design and architecture. Robert Geddes, dean emeritus of Princeton University School of Architecture, who chaired the Smart Growth Design Awards Jury said that this project “demonstrates vividly how one building can seed smart growth in an entire neighborhood or community”. 3 He called it a “striking new headquarters” building.