Brian Ahern, Architect

One of the biggest lessons for developers and designers alike in historic adaptive reuse projects, suggests architect Brian Ahern, is the need to keep in mind that there may be many unforeseen building conditions which you cannot account for until you rip things apart. .

Brian T. Ahern has worked on many projects involving famous names. These companies include the architectural firms of Ismael Leyva Architects and Costas Kondylis and Partners, as well as The Trump Organization, The Related Companies and Minskoff Equities. Among his assignments has been an initial residential tower design for Forest City Ratners’ Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, N.Y., and residential conversions of landmarks such as the Woolworth Building, 70 Pine Street, Manhattan’s 12th largest building, and the Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey.

“These are tremendous works of architecture that do not get built anymore,” says Ahern, referring to the historic properties. One of the major challenges older buildings pose for residential conversions are their large floor areas, says Ahern. “They were never initially laid out to be residences, so you have to find creative ways to convert them into apartments.” Children’s playrooms, golf simulators and health spas are just some of the types of uses that can be designed into these floor expanses, he notes.

For Ahern, historic buildings in these conversion projects are “boxes of chocolate; you do not know what you are going to have until you get your hands dirty.” One of the biggest lessons for developers and designers alike in historic adaptive reuse projects, suggests Ahern, is the need to keep in mind that there may be many unforeseen building conditions which you cannot account for until you rip things apart.

For example, in The Beacon, the conversion of the historic Jersey City Medical Center, the project team found out post-design that the walls were thicker on the lower floors than on the upper floors. As a result, the apartment layouts had to be redesigned.

Ahern is bringing his expertise to the architecture, engineering and development services firm of GreenbergFarrow. He has been hired as the firm’s residential studio director in the New York office, where his focus will be to enhance and expand GreenbergFarrow’s residential practice by securing new projects and contributing his distinctive design skills to the firm.

Projects GreenbergFarrow is currently working on include conversions in Brooklyn and a historic renovation in Manhattan. The firm is also preparing to participate in the New York City RFP for developers to design 275- to 300-square-feet “micro studios” for a new property located on 335 East 27th Street.

One of the often-overlooked skills an architect needs in working with developers on conversions is that of diplomacy, Ahern points out. That skill comes in useful when designers have to tell the developer that something is just not possible because of existing building conditions.