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Megan Apostol

Where’s the Party? It’s In Your Lobby

Where’s the Party? It’s In Your Lobby 789 444 DMR Architects

Pre-COVID-19, public spaces – everything from waiting rooms to bank branches – were quickly evolving into engagement space that encouraged interaction between employees and visitors.

While COVID caused many businesses to rethink spacing, counterintuitively, it hasn’t been about reduction or elimination of gathering areas.

Or, said differently, organizations of all types might as well be saying “Let’s get this party started.  Again.”

DMR Architects explains:

“Common areas should not be used simply as comfort and waiting stops, they should stimulate relationships among their visitors – whether that be a full-time employee walking through or a customer who may visit very infrequently.  The idea of fostering relationships and making people feel wanted, comfortable and entertained has enormous value – and it can be accomplished for a modest investment,” said Lloyd A. Rosenberg.

DMR has executed public space strategies for a wide array of companies. Some, like Blue Foundry Bank’s administrative office, were commenced before the pandemic and others, like Ridgefield’s municipal offices, were designed during the pandemic.  Each is responsive to a different set of criteria in pursuit of a specific objective. But they all have one thing in common: they are easy places to be.

“A generation ago, waiting rooms and reception areas were sterile places that people wanted to leave and meeting rooms were dominated by conference tables and uncomfortable seating,” Lloyd Rosenberg continues.  “Whereas in the past you were lucky to have coffee service, at Blue Foundry one of the main meeting spaces is a lounge-style cafeteria with beer on tap. Companies know that the more people are interacting the better they perform as collaborators. And in places like sports venues, such as the East Brunswick Ice Rink, the focus on food service and meeting spaces has transformed their use.

“And that’s all the more important since the pandemic, when people were intentionally kept apart and may be out of practice at socializing with customers and teammates.  The expected functions of an architect – like addressing circulation, capacity, wayfinding and safety – are in support of a broader consciousness.”

Even libraries and police departments are getting into the act.

“You wouldn’t think librarians would emphasize the need for places to gather, but libraries express community and culture through their public spaces, which is brought to life in the exceptional design of the Montgomery branch of the Somerset County Library System.  And in both Ridgefield and Montgomery, where the stationhouse adjoins the municipal building, the designs address practical and security concerns but are welcoming and accessible.

“These are not just buildings, they are representations of culture and community, and they should be developed as sources of pride.  And, they can be a lot of fun.  Now, it’s not a coma-inducing waiting room – it’s a party in the lobby.”

Dunellen Among First NJ Municipalities to Adopt Climate Resiliency Plan

Dunellen Among First NJ Municipalities to Adopt Climate Resiliency Plan 789 444 DMR Architects

Dunellen is believed to be the first municipality in New Jersey to adopt a stand-alone Climate Resiliency Plan following Governor Murphy’s 2021 amendment to the Municipal Land Use Law. The borough retained DMR to write the plan which addresses its susceptibility to flooding and other global warming hazards.

“Preparing a roadmap for anticipating and avoiding the flooding and other devastation that we saw after Hurricane Ida in September 2021 is so crucial to us in Dunellen that we took the important approach to prepare this plan as a stand-alone document,” said Dunellen Mayor Jason Cilento of the plan that will be used to guide decision-making related to zoning, redevelopment, housing, infrastructure, green initiatives, pedestrian safety and other aspects of daily life and municipal governance. “DMR’s practitioners helped us complete a comprehensive, proactive and intentional plan that will advance municipal redevelopment and sustainability practices and benefit the borough for generations.”

The Climate Resiliency Plan includes recommendations to the Borough for the next decade and beyond to mitigate its exposure to worsening flooding, precipitation, and heat, such as:

  • Partnering with regional agencies and neighboring municipalities to address riverine flooding;
  • Amending local zoning and exploring other options to reduce development intensity in flood prone areas;
  • Promoting green building practices that help to reduce flooding and stormwater runoff.

“Similar to how DMR’s planners approach any project, we drew on our diverse expertise from land use and zoning to sustainability practices that will help protect Dunellen for the next decade and beyond,” said Daniel Hauben, PP, AICP, LEED Green Associate.  “It is wise for municipal leaders to plan ahead of natural disasters as we see one in a hundred-year storms making landfall more and more often.”

DMR’s work to complete the plan included:

  • Analyzing the existing infrastructure, including water, sewage, power and gas; Dunellen’s flood zones and vulnerability for flooding regardless of the designated zones; and natural hazards;
  • Completing a vulnerability assessment which examined and rated the risks facing community assets, such as brooks, parks, transit lines, and buildings;
  • Completing a build out analysis to project how much redevelopment could occur within vulnerable areas under current zoning;
  • Recommending resiliency strategies, design standards and policies;
  • Identifying grant programs to provide critical funding for the projects outlined in the plan.

DMR’s previous planning work in Dunellen also included a Master Plan Reexamination; the Master Plan, Complete Streets and Transit Friendly Planning Survey; Cannabis Business Public Survey; and numerous Redevelopment Plan amendments and other efforts to address affordable housing and infrastructure projects.

DMR’s Success Linked to Team’s Cultural and Skills Diversity

DMR’s Success Linked to Team’s Cultural and Skills Diversity 789 444 DMR Architects

New Jersey is the fourth most diverse state in the United States and nowhere is that more evident – or beneficial – than at DMR Architects, where more than half of the employees are naturalized or first-generation Americans.

DMR’s teams of varied voices are uniquely qualified to lead projects that are intended for vast populations including healthcare, public education and parks, municipal redevelopment plans and buildings, and residential options that range from affordable rental housing to luxury condominiums. The outcomes ensure that no one will walk in and think “this building is not for me.”

“The benefits of diversity and inclusivity are profound – we see positive impacts in a broad spectrum of expected and unexpected parts of our business,” said Lloyd Rosenberg, AIA.

“A variety of cultures creates a mixture of perspectives and that leads to greater creativity in our work – something we would expect.   But additionally, our clients come from a broad set of backgrounds, and when they respect that our organization has a value system that welcomes diversity, a comfort level ensues.”

Mr. Rosenberg, a native of Jersey City, which is among the most diverse cities in the country, observed that DMR’s structure – which features integration of practice areas – also is an allegory for diversity.

This firm’s cultural diversity is mirrored in the varied skill sets and levels of the team – and its business thrives as a result.

“In our environment, the blending of diverse professional foci is beneficial to serving our clients and to our employees’ career advancement.  It is perfectly natural that the backgrounds of our people would contribute to our culture of performance.”

There are 14 different countries of birth for DMR employees, and when their parents’ places of birth are added in, the total of 26 countries of origin is an extraordinary representation at a firm of just 45 employees.

“Architecture today should reflect inclusivity that goes beyond ADA compliance; it should have cultural compliance.  We want everyone to feel seen and heard and comfortable being themselves.”

Just as cross-practice interaction has led to outcomes that far surpassed what one mindset would achieve, cross-cultural collaborations garner far more creativity than if the firm were more homogenous.

“We’ve created the workplace composition that is necessary to get today’s projects done in a way that will continue to be relevant for generations.”

Multiple Practice Areas Help Ridgefield Rewrite Script on Providing Municipal Services

Multiple Practice Areas Help Ridgefield Rewrite Script on Providing Municipal Services 789 444 DMR Architects

The new 27,000 SF municipal building at Shaler Blvd. and Slocum Ave. is the next chapter of Ridgefield’s reinvention story with co-author DMR Architects providing a holistic program integrating innovative planning, public project procurement, architecture, and development practices.

The new municipal building now houses the borough’s administrative offices, municipal/court chamber, and the police and building departments. The move also paved the way for the sale of the former Borough Hall, which will galvanize the Borough’s main thoroughfare through new development.

“While the need for a new Borough Hall was obvious the real challenge came in developing a unique procurement program to meet the Borough’s goals,” said Charles H. Sarlo, Esq. “DMR may be the only architecture firm in New Jersey that is structured to address what was a complex set of issues that included concerns over controlling construction costs and a due diligence process that quickly narrowed prospective locations.”

Multiple practice areas within the DMR umbrella including planners, designers, and attorneys began work in 2018 with a feasibility study of two municipally-owned properties with potential for a new development.

Ease of access, traffic, parking, size, environmental issues and the opportunity to create a public facility hub were all assessed, arriving at the ultimate solution of a site on Shaler Blvd. across from the Ridgefield Nature Center and adjacent to the Ridgefield Community Center.

DMR’s team saw the project from multiple vantage points revealing a cohesive solution for a new right-sized, municipal complex as well as assessing new uses for the former Borough Hall location that will bring in rateables and generate street-level activation in a walkable area of town.  The former Borough Hall site is in the process of being sold, creating financial resources to offset the cost of the new building.

“The corner of Shaler Blvd. and Slocum Ave. also made it a natural connection point to five acres of passive recreational space and walking trails located directly across the street,” said Janet Pini, AIA.  “The complex was constructed with energy efficient materials and technologies, and design inspiration from its location.  An expanse of windows across the back feels like an uninterrupted flow between the complex’s interior and its surrounding topography including the nearby Wolf Creek tree buffer.”

DMR assisted the municipality in having the new Borough Hall site designated as an area-in-need-of-redevelopment, providing the framework to allow greater flexibility in the procurement process.  This approach also allowed the Borough to balance risk exposure and manage project quality and costs through an alternative method rather than utilizing the traditional local public contracts law. This strategy allowed it to engage redevelopers on a maximum-cost basis that eliminated the possibility of cost over-runs while encouraging efficiency through collaboration between the architects and contractors.

DMR Takes Unique Approaches to Affordable Housing

DMR Takes Unique Approaches to Affordable Housing 789 444 DMR Architects

DMR has worked within numerous municipalities in New Jersey to design affordable housing solutions that become points of pride, including two projects that have recently opened: one with the East Orange Housing Authority and its partners and another in Upper Saddle River for the Bergen County Housing Development Corporation.

At the Ted R. Green Senior Residences in East Orange, DMR worked with the East Orange Housing Authority, Genesis Companies and The Metro Company to construct a 60-unit, 61,000 SF facility, with 15 units set-aside and marketed to homeless persons, in addition to 8,000 SF of administrative offices and indoor and outdoor community space.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to affordable housing or for inviting senior residents to age in place,” said Fernando Robledo, AIA. “In this case, we created an attractive and engaging facility that also addresses this population’s need for special services.”

The project, constructed on an assemblage of four parcels, was constructed in one of New Jersey’s most populated areas. The process required acquiring adjacent properties and determining what type of program – new construction, renovation or additions – would best serve the needs of the community.

It’s the second DMR-designed affordable housing project to open in one month, following the ribbon cutting of The Residences at Upper Saddle River in May.

“The affordable housing obligation is not to the state, but to the residents in each community, those who want to remain local, age in place or have other special needs,” said Kurt Vierheilig, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. “Our projects respond to this commitment in a way that reflects each community, the architecture around them and welcomes the residents who will live there.”

The Residences at Upper Saddle River is a 70-unit residential community for senior citizens and special needs households situated on an eight-acre site, adjacent to undisturbed wetlands. The design prioritizes gathering and interaction that draws on the features of the site.

Prospect Park Becomes First NJ Municipality to Adopt Community Energy Plan

Prospect Park Becomes First NJ Municipality to Adopt Community Energy Plan 789 444 DMR Architects

Prospect Park in Passaic County has become the first municipality to adopt a Community Energy Plan under the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) and Sustainable Jersey Clean Energy Grant Program, an effort to align with The State’s Energy Master Plan, the roadmap to reaching Governor Murphy’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The borough used its $25,000 grant to retain DMR to prepare the plan, which identifies more than two dozen initiatives that Prospect Park will implement within a five-year period, including:

  • Installing renewable energy sources, energy storage, and public EV charging stations on municipal properties, and improving energy efficiency of municipal buildings;
  • Creating opportunities for community solar programs that allow the public to purchase solar energy from off-site sources, with an emphasis on availability and affordability for low- and moderate-income households;
  • Outreach campaigns to increase resident and business participation in incentive programs offered by the state, federal government and utilities like PSE&G to transition to electric vehicles, make energy efficient improvements and install solar and other forms of renewable energy;
  • Replace older borough fleet vehicles with newer, preferably electric alternatives, and adopt fuel efficient fleet vehicle management practices;
  • Make energy planning inclusive of low- and moderate-income and non-English speaking households;
  • Adopt zoning and regulatory language that permits renewable energy production and energy storage.

“We applaud Mayor Khairullah and the Prospect Park council for recognizing the role that reducing carbon-based energy sources plays in the overall health and wellbeing of everyone who lives and works in Prospect Park,” said Tracey Woods, Energy Program Manager for Sustainable Jersey. “Their commitment to change shows that any municipality can address climate change in a meaningful way.”

“This is the next step for us toward making more clean energy sources available and reducing GHG emissions,” said Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah.  “We had a public reading of the plan earlier this month and there was overwhelming support from our residents and businesses.”

“There are state-level grants, tax credits from the Federal Inflation Reduction Act, and incentives through utility companies available right now making it the ideal time for municipalities to create Community Energy Plans,” said Daniel Hauben, PP, AICP, LEED Green Associate. “As planners committed to building healthier and more affordable communities, our team at DMR is equipped to guide our municipal clients through the resources that are available to them now.”

In June 2022 NJBPU approved $820,000 in grants to 46 municipalities to create Community Energy Plans to combat climate change.  Prospect Park was one of only 24 designated as overburdened and eligible for $25,000.

Five-Year Total for Upgrades to NJ Schools Exceeds 100 Projects

Five-Year Total for Upgrades to NJ Schools Exceeds 100 Projects 789 444 DMR Architects

While known for creating many cutting edge preK-12 education spaces, including some of the most advanced in the country, DMR is also responsible for nearly 125 projects categorized as essential building upgrades, health and safety concerns, needs for special populations and other facility maintenance needs over the past five years.

“Long before administrators can even think about adding spaces for biomedical chemistry labs or STEM spaces, they need to invest in ongoing maintenance and upgrades to utilities, security and other systems,” said Janet Pini, AIA. “DMR’s team provides diverse expertise backgrounds that allows us to help clients end to end on project components including securing funding, choosing the most cost-effective solutions and materials, and sequencing work to impose the least amount of disruption to the school year.”

DMR’s work valued at $85 million of essential upgrades includes:

  • 37 Building Skins (Masonry, Facade, Windows, Roofs)
  • 28 Building Systems Upgrades
  • 15 Classrooms/Capacity Generation
  • 13 Interior or Outdoor Physical Education Fields, Locker Rooms or Fitness Spaces
  • 10 Auditoriums
  • Seven Security Upgrades

DMR is also managing 53 projects for the New York City School Construction Authority (NYCSCA) at preK-12 facilities throughout the city.

Creative Land Arrangements Power Long-Awaited Projects

Creative Land Arrangements Power Long-Awaited Projects 789 444 DMR Architects

by Charles H. Sarlo, Esq.

Some of the best untapped development opportunities may be held by municipalities whose well-located but outdated schools and administrative buildings can be relocated, unlocking value that can be then used to finance new facilities elsewhere.

DMR has had an up-close view of municipal innovation in two recent situations that solved the problem of locating and financing much-needed reinvention of public buildings without undue pressure on the tax base. In New Brunswick, an antiquated elementary school became the site of a new cancer center for RWJBarnabas Medical Center and Rutgers Cancer Institute, with a new school developed on another city-owned site featuring modern educational resources and functionality that the old building could never accommodate.

In addition to addressing rapidly evolving educational needs, the New Brunswick program had at its heart two dynamics that are dominating the current real estate landscape: the boom in healthcare-oriented development that pushed RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, to create a new facility for cancer treatment; and the massive pressure to repurpose and scale-up sites in the face of downtown redevelopment.

In Ridgefield leadership declared its former Borough Hall site on Broad Avenue as an area in need of redevelopment to facilitate a sale, and constructed a brand-new municipal complex on property it already owned that offered superior access and parking. Here the requirement was for municipal services and public safety rather than education, but the driving economic concepts were the same, albeit on a smaller scale in terms of the project itself and the community in which it sits.

Each site represented interesting challenges, and each found their solution in an unusual place: Ridgefield was a perfect match for alternatives to the traditional municipal bidding process, resulting in it contracting for a fixed-price that greatly reduced its risk. And New Brunswick had DEVCO, the City’s vaunted redevelopment resource, at its disposal for both financial and planning solutions.

While residents can sometimes have sentimental feelings about municipal buildings, in both these cases when my colleagues at DMR dug just below the surface, we found that their occupants were eager to trade into something more modern and that there would be no meaningful resistance to moving from within. That tells an important story: that pragmatism about getting the job done overcomes sentimentality among the user-constituents, and once the fiscal and productivity story is told, civil servants and residents alike quickly get on board with making a change.

As schools, police stations, city halls, parking facilities, public works depots and municipal garages age out of their relevance, and as renovation costs continue to be nearly as high as constructing new facilities, we expect to see more of our municipal clients not only updating their facilities, but also turning into the next generation of insightful real estate developers.

Recent Work Shows Healthcare Industry Is a Bright Spot in Economy

Recent Work Shows Healthcare Industry Is a Bright Spot in Economy 789 444 DMR Architects

DMR is currently working on five new, upgraded or repurposed healthcare spaces, a bright spot in real estate development during an uncertain economic time. The projects consist of addressing equipment upgrades, operational needs, and a focus shift to a higher degree of attention to the patient experience with four of New Jersey’s largest healthcare systems.

“Our healthcare clients are actively working to shift patient perceptions of their spaces from clinical, scary places that are almost seen as transactional to calming, welcoming, and experiential self-care activities,” said Pradeep Kapoor, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.  “Healthcare facilities are like any other business, creating a welcoming and personalized environment will ensure repeat visits for everything from preventative to specialty care.”

Projects currently on the boards include:

  • A relocation of the cardiology department at St. Peter’s University Hospital to accommodate for new equipment.
  • A redesign of the Department of Surgery, also at St. Peter’s University Hospital, to accommodate growth/increased in-office services with nine exam rooms, three consultant rooms, and four stations of documentation and staff office/registration.
  • The expansion of the Heart and Vascular Center at Hunterdon Healthcare‘s Bridgewater location by repurposing three exam rooms in an adjacent suite.
  • A relocation of Valley Hospital‘s Primary Urgent Care Center facility in Dumont so that it can continue to meet patients’ needs in a modernized space.
  • A finish upgrade to the lobby of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, part of the Hackensack Meridian Health system, to provide a warm and welcoming environment.

Why We Stay

Why We Stay 2438 1563 DMR Architects

This post originally appeared as part of a two-part series with Real Estate New Jersey. See also, part 1, “You Build Trust by Trusting People,” which outlines DMR’s culture of empowerment. In this article, RENJ sat down with several DMR staff members to understand their experiences growing their careers at DMR. 

Pradeep Kapoor, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Chief Operating Officer, Partner (21 years)

Pradeep Kapoor was a junior architect in 2003 when the sustainable design movement was taking hold. He recalls that Lloyd Rosenberg, DMR Architects’ president and CEO, saw the trend as a potential game-changer and asked his team if someone was interested in helping to build a practice in the emerging growth area.

Kapoor stepped forward, studied and soon became certified in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. By 2005, DMR had secured its first assignment in the field, the Carlstadt Elementary School, which in 2007 became New Jersey’s first LEED-certified public school.

“We not only give people opportunity. We ask people to bring opportunities that they would like to explore,” Kapoor said, adding: “That was something I learned from Lloyd because, when I wanted to pursue LEED and other avenues of architecture, he always encouraged me.”

Kevin Johnson, Project Manager (10 years)

Job jumping may be a common practice among young professionals, but not for Kevin Johnson, who joined DMR in 2012 and has never looked back.

Here’s one major reason: He has the tools he needs to do his job.

“I’ve always felt supported with technology,” said Johnson, a project manager. “That’s been a huge issue with some people I know — they don’t get the support they need, the computers are too slow, they don’t have the programs they need.

“So not only did I start with a good system in place, but any time I’ve had a concern about something, I’ve brought it up and it’s been looked into.”

Janet Pini, AIA, Sr. Project Manager/Associate (20 years)

Janet Pini has only ever known DMR Architects, the company she has called home since she graduated from New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2002. The firm “afforded me the opportunity to learn right as I got started,” she recalls, noting that she quickly worked on different aspects of the profession — from design and production to construction administration — along with different industries and asset classes.

“That’s been a theme through my whole career here, and I think one of the reasons why I’ve stayed is I’m not doing the same thing every day,” she said. “I’m working on municipal projects and school projects, which really has become my focus here, but I still do get housing projects, health care projects. So there’s that variety.”

Pini now spearheads a mentoring program for the firm’s junior-level talent, hoping to engender the kind of creative freedom and hands-on, supportive learning environment that have kept her at DMR for two decades.

Kurt Vierheilig, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Design, Partner (23 years)

Collaboration is key, but it’s not the only ingredient for thriving in a group setting. It also comes down to being able to understand the creative choices, opinions and suggestions of others — even if they don’t always align — and ultimately find a solution.

“I always felt that the people that worked here were really working in sync,” said Kurt Vierheilig, who was named a partner in 2017. “Everyone respected everyone else. Even if you don’t agree, you understand why you don’t agree, but there’s a goal that you’re trying to reach toward.

“I think if people understand why you might have a difference of opinion, that also helps them develop, but it also helps to keep things going in the right direction, in a respectful way as co-workers. And I’ve always felt that, no matter where you were, no matter what level you’re at, there’s always a good collaborative process. Because buildings are complicated — there’s so many different ways you can do it, different approaches you can take and a lot that goes into it.”

Fassil Zewdou, Sr. Project Manager, Associate  (21 years)

Fassil Zewdou is candid when he notes that “I really don’t like to move around.” But even he is amazed to have spent more than two decades with DMR Architects.

Why has he stayed? There’s the ability to learn, the attention from senior leaders and the strong business fundamentals that help the firm endure even in leaner times. But he also points to something that can’t be so easily quantified — company culture.

“You can define value in terms of what the company stands for — if it is employee-centered as opposed to just financials,” said Zewdou, who focuses primarily on education projects in New York City. “You can’t quantify that distinction — you just know it.”