Designing a City Community that Benefits from the Great Outdoors

Jorge Mastropietro Architects Atelier is designing a Brooklyn condominium building that's far from cookie-cutter.

New York—Jorge Mastropietro Architects Atelier (JMA), an architecture, design-build and development firm, has announced a new plan to build a five-story multifamily building in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jorge Mastropietro, AIA, is both the designer and developer of the 50-foot-tall, five-residence building. The 5,200-square-foot building will feature four two-bedroom condominiums, averaging about 1,300 square feet in size. A duplex will occupy the cellar and first floor of the building. Each residence will include private outdoor space, which Mastropietro feels is essential in a city home.

“The biggest challenge we faced in the design of the project was the constraints of the site,” Mastropietro said. “[Given] a 20-foot-wide site, it is very challenging to meet ADA standards while also maintaining a clean, functional floor plan. It was originally intended to be Passive House Certified, but the amount of additional insulation required in the walls wasn’t feasible to also meet ADA requirements. It will still be a green building with integrated passive strategies.

“Another challenge was designing a building in a gentrifying neighborhood where established residents may resist change. We try to anticipate what the neighborhood will be like in five years, while attempting to respect the current neighborhood. We know that there may be some resistance to new projects, but we try to create something unique, something visually appealing that will improve the urban context. This particular neighborhood [of] Gowanus is challenging because it is a mix of light-industrial with residential, meaning that there is no uniformly accepted style in the neighborhood.”

Mastropietro doesn’t believe any development challenges have been unique to this building. “In general, we find that developments are challenging because you need to act fast, especially here in New York City,” he said.

Having gained experience designing celebrated multifamily and townhome projects in Buenos Aires and Metro New York City, Mastropietro believes this project has special significance for Gowanus.

“This project can serve as a precedent for architectural development,” he said. “As a development project, the bottom line is important. But as architects, we don’t want to produce cookie-cutter buildings. Any new building has to be related to the neighbors. When we design a building in a neighborhood like Gowanus, we know that it will [serve as] a precedent. It is different than when we do something in a more consolidated neighborhood, like Harlem, where a new building will be filling the gap. In this case, we need to think about what others developers will do. [For instance] we contacted the developer next to us to see what he was doing, and we decided to match their set back. We know we are changing the streetscape and we know this is a huge responsibility.”

Mastropietro and his colleagues have learned while working on previous projects that residential units are more readily marketed when well-designed.

“Buyers are getting tired of the cookie-cutter developments,” he said. “There are so many. We tried to do something unique, something that will show our passion for design, for our buildings, for our city. And people are willing to pay extra pennies for that.”