Photos via 18park.com
Freshly completed, 18 Park is a beacon of the Jersey City development boom. The 11-story, 422-unit building, crafted by HWKN Architecture, officially opened this summer to accolades for its perfectly balanced facade — monumental but welcoming, modern but classically tailored. We talked with HWKN Co-Founder Matthias Hollwich about the conception and immersive design of the luxury rental development, located between the Light Rail and the marina.
BuzzBuzzHome: 18 Park has a very declarative, “Tetris-like” facade. What were you trying to achieve with the design and how did you go about doing it?
Matthias Hollwich: The intention was to create an instant classic, but also with very modern attributes. Especially now, with Liberty Harbor North, there’s really been progress in the area, a healing of the urban texture. We believe that our building has a ton of responsibility to (continue) that.
We started with the traditional proportions of classical buildings with a base, main body and crown, but we didn’t want to blatantly do what some New York buildings do, (that sort of) tapping directly into history. We found one model, one pixel, and started to combine windows horizontally or vertically or double them up to bring in subtle variation of a singular treatment.
The scale is monumental; it’s a big building, but we make sure it breaks down the dimensions to a human scale. We paid attention to the datum of the ground floor; the big awnings create a comfortable scale off the back wall, the foot path is more humanized. At the base where the retail is, most of the facade is a little deeper in, two feet or even five feet. Where the footpath comes into the building, you get an expression of almost arches on the ground floor.
One additional element that we were excited about is being able to introduce the window frames, punched out a couple of inches beyond the brick. It creates shadows onto the brick, which gives the building the appearance of solidity, for a mix that’s much calmer, more mature. The play of the sun and the shadow draws you into the building and gives you a welcoming sense. The development is angular, but that kind of depth and play with light really balance the scale.
BBH: What were the materials that you used in the facade?
MH: We had two different kinds of bricks. We made sure we chose a unique brick; one type we used was black, with kind of a metallic shine to reflect light. On the base area, it’s a lighter brick with broken edges, almost waffled, to intensify the naturality of the building. That way, the building feels much more permanent, like it’s going to be here for a while. Shiny and flat material gets dated. The aluminum frame was part of the window system, and the awnings also had aluminum. The awning comes from outside the lobby to the inside, and it turns into the lighting feature of the lobby.
BBH: Can you talk about the design of the amenities?
MH: On the upper floors, the whole building has a U shape; below the U is parking, and above the parking we have a spectacular amenity deck with pool, sun terraces, all kinds of hangout places that actually look out over the water with the Statue of Liberty. On a Saturday afternoon when people hang out, you want to offer them the possibility of being with friends or being on their own. When you’re at the amenity deck for a couple of hours, you can vary your experience, and having that large platform really elevated that (flexibility).
MH (cont.): The lobby was the hardest thing to work with; because of the elevators, there was not that much space but a lot of height. We were afraid it would not feel generous and big enough, and that maybe people would feel uncomfortable. We used the height as an advantage, so when you walk in, it feels very empowering, very airy and open, generated by the kind of sensibilities of the materials. We had this beautiful artisan wood wall where the elevators are, it rises up maybe 20 feet, but it’s kind of a deep texture with true materiality, providing a beautiful play of light and shadow. The central light fixture, which is a kind of chandelier, we custom designed. It comes out of the awning, like it’s dripping into the center space. I’ve worked before in projects in Asia, and I’ve always looked into positive feng shui. I believe in the general guidelines of good design, and the lobby is fully feng shui compliant — that sense of organization and arrival. The chandelier gives off good energy when you pass through. It’s not “homey,” but it makes you feel welcome at home.
Another element that was fantastic and came from KRE was the Boys & Girls Club (on the ground floor). It’s a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility, and it really energizes the building itself, especially at the corner that didn’t have retail. It activates the community around 18 Park.
We try to make a building social and engaging. When we’re working with our designs, we think of two scales — first, the grand scale of the building that excites you and connects you in an iconic way. After you go beyond the iconic image, it’s important to put in details architecturally and programmatically that really engage people and offer them opportunities. That’s what is happening in the retail (at 18 Park), and at the Boys & Girls Club.
BBH: Sometimes, corridors get short shrift in apartment buildings, but walking through the hallways at 18 Park is almost a tactile experience. What was your thinking behind the design?
MH: We like to create an immersive environment. Your experience from the exterior, the theme of square and frame that you see in the facade, travels with you into the awning and lobby, repeated into the hallway. The baseboard continues with the door frame, going around the floors and ceilings. It’s a functional but aesthetic element that structures the hallway. The doors are significantly recessed; many buildings overlook that there’s kind of a philosophic, psychological threshold that you need. A door is a door, but you also want to feel that your neighbors are a little removed. By pushing the door in, you create a little bit of space in the public hallway. There’s depth when you walk from the hallway into your apartment. It’s the same strategy, on a smaller scale, as what we used on the facade with the extruded aluminum frames.
BBH: What was your general concept when you were designing the layouts of the units? What elements did you include to appeal to tenants?
MH: Of course, there are a lot of tactical considerations. When you come in, you want to know where you put your coat, where you put your keys. But it’s also very important that when you walk into an apartment, you should feel welcome. We don’t like when you walk into a corner or against a wall; when you walk in, the hallway should open up into the living room, the grand view, so you can immediately experience the depth and vastness of your apartment. The kitchen opens directly into the dining and living room, and it’s also a piece of furniture. When you use the kitchen, you’re not with your back to guests. You can actually look at each other over the parallel counter, you can use the kitchen counter as a breakfast table, so there’s functionality already built into these apartments. There’s the (in-unit) washer/dryer for convenience and big closets. In most cases, we were able to put walk-in closets in the master bedroom. This also creates a nook from the living room to master bedroom. It gives a sense of threshold and additional level of privacy, which we’re very passionate about realizing.
BBH: Jersey City is seeing record levels of new construction. How do you think 18 Park fits into this new landscape?
MH: We designed 18 Park with a long-term perspective. That was the beautiful part in working with our client; they’re not thinking about just the next four, five, 20 years. It’s the choice of materials, the choice of layout and all these amenities that we were able to bring in. It’s a really unique building. With more buildings coming to the neighborhood and Journal Square, people will realize how vibrant Jersey City is. More people will come here and realize that this is the right place to be.