Architect Steven Kratchman speaks with enthusiasm about the original stock of skyrises that stretch along the Hudson waterfront. He wouldn’t describe the Gold Coast’s half-century-old towers as rusted or tarnished.
But, he’s thrilled about being the architect that has a hand in polishing them.
Kratchman, founder and owner of Steven Kratchman Architect P.C., has been a go-to among architects selected to update the luxury residential high-rises built in the ’70s and ’80s, when the Gold Coast term was coined by real estate speculators excited about development along the Hudson River’s western end.
“For the most part, these buildings were all built similarly in the same generation — for the same generation,” he said. “These were New Yorkers who wanted to get out of the city, to have some affordable luxury and a place to park their cars.
“Some still have the original shareholders in them, believe it or not. But there are people who have grown families there, and — 50 years later — they feel somewhat trapped. The neighboring development has bypassed them with brighter, shinier buildings.”
Kratchman said there were 40-plus facilities constructed between Bayonne to Fort Lee in a similar timeframe. Fort Lee’s Horizon House and Union’s Troy Towers are just two of those properties he’s had a hand in helping renovate.
In fact, he (literally) wrote the book on how to update these buildings. For associations in New Jersey and New York, he created a “Renovation Best Practices for Co-Op/Condo Boards” guidebook.
As for why the upscale residential properties need reinvigorating, Kratchman said there are multiple generations moving there — and they’re all bringing to bear different demands when it comes to amenities and aesthetics.
“The original amenity package doesn’t work for the five different generations living there now,” he said. “As an example: There are pools that are hard for younger kids to use, and older people in wheelchairs don’t want to get in them.”
Pools, which few of these luxury Gold Coast condos go without, are being retrofitted to ditch the diving board (which Kratchman said are already abandoned due to lack of use or for insurance purposes); to add some shallower sections and water sprinklers for kids; and to add alcoves and better sitting areas for the older generation. Wind screens are also going up to use the pool on more days.
“The reason why I start with the pool as a major trend is that the five generations all like to be outside,” Kratchman said. “Whether it’s outdoor cooking areas, gardening sections or other architectural schemes, the three seasons are very important.”
The other main feature of Kratchman’s repositioning of the Gold Coast skyrises is the incorporation of the architectural philosophy of “universal design.” That encompasses, among many things, the addition of bigger doorways, no-step entries, ramp entrances and automated lighting controls.
“This is distinct from accessible, or ADA design, that’s required,” Kratchman said. “This is more expansive. And it’s something that I foresee sweeping across our country, which has already happened (in architecture) in international circles. Priorities are changing.”
Ever wonder how that Amazon facility goes from an empty plot to a massively wide, towering warehouse within a week?
Roberto Martinez, vice president of architecture for REDCOM Design & Construction LLC, has the answer: the “prefab” trend.
Prefabricated, factory-built structures have within recent years replaced masonry construction as a construction method, Martinez said. That’s replacing the conventional means of putting together a building on-site with panels that are manufactured off-site and then stuck together, as Martinez offered in layman’s terms, like a LEGO set.
Going brick-by-brick with the earlier method was more expensive, took longer and was more labor-intensive, Martinez added. Prefab designs also more easily met regulations surrounding building insulation.
Even for downtown buildings with brick exteriors or structures with wood facades, Martinez said those are just aesthetic touches. Even those walls tend to be measured out, manufactured and installed quickly with the prefab system today.
“With this system, everything can be surgically coordinated,” Martinez said. “If you do your homework well and plan ahead, everything timing-wise can be shortened by a lot.”
The only issue a firm such as REDCOM experiences in using prefabricated panels is a lack of companies able to manufacture them to their specifications.
“In this newer industry, there’s only really three or four players that have the market,” Martinez said. “That means you have to be careful with scheduling, because there aren’t that many companies ready to produce these panels. But, as the system keeps going, we’re going to see more manufacturers doing this.”
For architecture firms all using the same quick-and-easy method to stay competitive, Martinez said there’s going to have to be a new focus on relationships and customer service.
“That’s the silver lining behind all this,” he said. “It forces us to do a much better job with that side of things.”