Urban Legend

A homegrown architect’s grand scheme
Sep 17, 2009 | 6596 views | 0 0 comments | 167 167 recommendations | email to a friend | print
89W, Hoboken Photo by Paul Bartholomew
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Dean Marchetto puts his money where his mouth is. His office, a renovated church on Willow Avenue in Hoboken, enshrines his philosophy of preservation and progress. On the bright spring afternoon when I visit, Hoboken Mayor Dave Roberts is on his way out. “Dean has left his imprint on Hoboken for the better,” Roberts tells me. “He’s changed the architectural environment.”

Marchetto—who has worked with partners Bruce Stieve and Michael Higgins for 15 years—might argue that he hasn’t so much changed it as enhanced it. “I’m a firm believer in context,” he says. “Architecture comes out of the environment it’s in. Instead of interjecting foreign styles into the architecture of a town or area, look at what exists in terms of history and style.”

The renovated church in Hoboken that serves as his office was built for a Norwegian congregation around 1913. He’s currently adding a Notre Dame style apse but with gentle wave-like shapes that channel Frank Gehry.

His Hoboken residential buildings use modern technology based on the 100-year-old designs of the town’s brownstones, row houses, and brick buildings.

Marchetto’s work can be found all around the area from Jersey City to Fort Lee. They include housing projects, parks, community centers, firehouses, and residential buildings. “My work is not just to make homes but to make cities,” he says. “That’s my overriding concern.”

MARCHETTO LIKES TO DRIVE around Hoboken and observe, and later some version of what he sees will appear in his designs. “Driving up Bloomfield Street, every building is about 20-25 feet wide by 100 feet long,” he says. “They’re similar to one another though they have their own separate stoops, doors, and facades.”

He explains that original brownstones in Jersey City and Hoboken were built on lots every 25 feet. Now lots may occupy an entire block, so he creates a design that mirrors the 25-foot template. He does it with bay windows and a variety of brick segments. “It recalls the texture and grain,” he says, “giving it the same textural scale.” As you move to the outer edges of the city, he says, properties get bigger, but he can still maintain the scale of the smaller urban context by breaking up the façade with two colors and bay windows.

He also likes to riff on the “square donut.” This refers to backyard spaces which are actually rectangular. “All buildings hug the perimeter of the block,” he explains, “leaving open space in rear yards, which provide private sanctuaries.”

Buildings are “not just places to inhabit,” he says. “They provide a public face. The façade of the building is really the wall of a room, the wallpaper around the room of the public space. The space between buildings is an important part of the urban condition.”

Marchetto’s urban vision works best, he says, when the “existing context is rich as it is in downtown Hoboken and Jersey City and Journal Square. “Hoboken and Jersey City,” he says, “are doing a great job encouraging developers to design things that work.”

Builders in Hoboken and Jersey City steer clear of aluminum siding to avoid perpetuating that Tony Soprano opening-credits look in favor of quality materials like brick and stone that maintain the character of buildings. Marchetto uses the three little pigs analogy to show that the stronger the materials, the more enduring the structure. “The subliminal message,” he says, “is that that you build a place with long-lasting appeal. It’s important in cities, there’s a timelessness about it. The quality of the design all adds to the richness of the place.”

In our area, the river is the not-so-silent partner in urban design. In both West New York and Weehawken, where Marchetto has projects pending, planning boards are concerned about maintaining views of the river and the Manhattan skyline, just as they are in Jersey City and Hoboken.

MARCHETTO WAS BORN IN Hoboken but moved to North Bergen when he became school age. “At North Bergen High School I took an elective course in mechanical drawing,” Marchetto relates. “With a T-square and triangle, I made three-dimensional drawings of motors and cars. Because I liked to draw I was encouraged to take a course in architecture.”

He ended up at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York, where he was awarded the gold medal for outstanding achievement, a huge thrill for his parents, neither of whom were college educated.

But it’s hard to ignore the influence of his father’s work. “He was in construction and made sculptures and statues,” Marchetto says. “He’d make an 80-foot-tall sculpture that was carried through the streets at feasts and ethnic festivals.”

Marchetto sees architecture as a great education. “It combines the arts with the sciences, math, engineering, the history of art, and the history of architecture.” He cites Le Corbusier in France, Frank Lloyd Wright in the U.S., Mies van der Rohe in Germany, Antoni Gaudi in Spain, and Charles Macintosh in Scotland as his influences.

“There’s a richness about building in Hudson County,” he says. “It’s a new urbanism—bringing people back to the city.”—Kate Rounds Marchetto Projects BERLIN WALL MEMORIAL

Actual pieces of the Berlin Wall feature in this memorial in Jersey City, just north of the Harborside financial complex. The four segments of the wall are four feet wide and 16 feet high. It’s diagonally aligned across from the spot in downtown Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood.


This 11-unit residential loft conversion offers 11 parking spaces. Adjacent to the Hoboken A&P, the former warehouse maintains some of the original features such as interior trusses and the original brick interior walls. The fire wall facing the A&P parking lot uses an intricate pattern of structural plates to create interest in what would otherwise be a blank wall.


Located at 89 Willow, at the corner of Newark in Hoboken, this building has a modern circular corner with contextual wings on either side. A five-story residential structure with eight units, it features commercial space on the ground floor.


This 4,500-square-foot structure was designed as a flexible space with an area that can function as either a gym or an outdoor concert hall.


Located in the Paulus Hook section of Jersey City and completed in 2002, it features 40 residential units with parking in the basement. It was once part of the Colgate plant and preserves the feel of the historic area’s row houses and brownstones. It features towers, copper columns, fireplaces, chimneys, bay windows, private terraces, slate roofs, and historic brick detailing.


Adjacent to the Marin Boulevard light rail station in Jersey City, Gull’s Cove embodies the key principles of new urbanism. It’s designed to respond to three different scales by incorporating components that are 16 stories, 10 stories, and five stories. Each side of the building relates to the scale of the buildings across the corresponding street so that public space on the street is appropriately proportioned. The facades are a combination of two brick types, and floor to ceiling glass panels are introduced at all the corners to further reduce the apparent bulk of the building. The ground floor is ringed with retail shops to promote pedestrian traffic. The parking is completely hidden, and all the rooftops are used for recreation space.


Anyone who’s driven down Observer Highway is familiar with the old car wash on Adams Street. In 2004, Marchetto redesigned it as a recreation center, a tall space featuring shaded blue glass, sunny rooms, a gym, locker rooms, and a lounge area. It offers a unique combination of uses on an oddly shaped lot.

HUDSON COUNTY JUVENILE DETENTION FACILITY This Secaucus facility is designed to give incarcerated kids some sense of normalcy. Though there are no cages or barbed wire the facility is secure. The outdoor recreational space is enclosed by the building itself, not a chain link fence. “The message to young offenders is positive,” says Marchetto. The 66-bed facility was completed in 1996.


The proposed design for the area behind the clubhouse at this world-class Jersey City course brings to mind an Italian hill town with a boat ramp, marina, and mixed-use residential towers surrounding the central “piazza”.


Located near a park with a playground, the firehouse features windows through which kids and others can view the fire engines with their lights flashing. It has a dining room, eight-bed dormitory, and a red square window from which firefighters can view the children, offering an extra measure of security. Completed in 1995, it won an Excellence in Architecture Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).


On 9th Street in Hoboken between Jefferson and Madison, this six-story residential structure is above retail space. It’s a C-shaped building with a courtyard and a parking garage hidden behind the retail space.


On 14th Street in Hoboken, this 22-unit residential building offers retail space and 22 parking spaces. Completed in 2005, it won the Historic Award for New Construction from the Hoboken Historic District Commission. It features arches, modern cornices, two-color façade, and panels of glass.


Marchetto designed the World War II memorial at this popular Hoboken waterfront space, which features an amphitheater, concession building, and rest rooms.


Otherwise known as the Sixth Street Embankment, this mixed-use development has not been approved. Plans call for 19 acres of elevated public open space and adaptive re-use of the railroad embankment. It received a Smart Growth Award in association with an award from the AIA.


A much-used concert space, Debaun maintains many of the architectural features used by the original architect, Richard Upjohn, who designed Wall Street’s Trinity Church in 1871. While modern and high-tech, it echoes the original with color patterns and decorative motifs. It won the State of New Jersey Historic Preservation Award in 2000 and the Hoboken Heritage Award in 2001.


This community center offers a gym and other recreational facilities, including chess tables. It was designed in a welcoming way to lift the stigma of the “projects”.

HARRISON COURT The design of this 52-unit condominium on Harrison Street in Hoboken was inspired by the work of the great Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi. The planning for this project included input from neighborhood residents.

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