The Metropolitan Lofts, a new traditional-style mixed-use building in the heart of Morristown, New Jersey, expands the design vision of the town’s historic Central Business District.
The residential rental and retail structure, which blends the old and the new in timely perfection, is around the corner from the town’s stately classic buildings and the Morristown Green, the grassy gathering spot that serves as the town’s heart and soul and acts as the host of a variety of large public events.
While the terms of the town’s redevelopment plan call for loft-style buildings with red brick facades and huge windows, high ceilings, and exposed brick walls to pay homage to Morristown’s industrial warehouse past, Dean P. Marchetto, FAIA, PP, a founding principal of Marchetto Higgins Stieve, pushed the parameters.
“This loft-style expectation didn’t exactly work with the existing context of the site’s neighboring properties or the developer’s design wishes,” he says.
The award-winning firm had already designed one loft structure for Morristown, an urban center about 30 miles west of Manhattan, so Marchetto and his partner, Bruce A. Stieve, AIA, looked to the iconic lofts of New York City’s Soho for new inspiration.
They were drawn to the neighborhood’s iconic Victorian-era cast-iron buildings and searched for a less expensive, more efficient material to achieve a similar look.
“There was one corner building we saw that was painted in a color similar to zinc,” Marchetto said, adding that Stieve sketched out the ideas. “It rang a bell with us.”
They chose zinc, a natural, sustainable, bendable material that they were acquainted with because they had used it to add a round apse-like addition to the 19th-century brick church that houses their Hoboken headquarters.
“Zinc has the qualities of copper, but it doesn’t tarnish,” Marchetto says, adding that it’s a popular façade choice in Europe, particularly Paris. “You can shape it and mold it so you can produce details like dentils, cornice lines, corbels, and entablatures. This also allowed us to give more attention to the detailing of the façade while staying within budget.”
It’s also durable—it can last about a century—and it is maintenance free—it doesn’t require painting.
Once the material was chosen, everything else fell into place.
“Generally, when we do these types of projects, getting approval from the town planning board is the biggest challenge,” Marchetto says. “But in this case, the town loved our design, and it went through immediately with strong support from Mayor Tim Dougherty.”
The Metropolitan Lofts, which has 59 residential rental units and 3,500 square feet of ground-level retail space, was built on what had been a vacant lot that’s next to a couple of 19th-century historic homes and served as one of two entrances to the town’s 800-space municipal parking garage.
“Because the parking garage was already there, we didn’t have to incorporate parking into our design,” Marchetto says, adding that this freed the first floor for retail space, giving the project a bona-fide streetscape. “But we did have to keep the garage entrance in the same place and design the building to span over it.”
He adds that the garage, which puts all the parking for the block in a singular central location, is a prime example of “forward thinking and great urban design.”
The resulting C-shaped Metropolitan Lofts building, which won a New Jersey AIA design award in 2018, merges the centuries, creating what Marchetto calls an aesthetic that’s “traditional and modern at the same time.”
The classical main façade is made of highly detailed zinc supplied by the French company VM Zinc.
The other three sides, sleek and subtle, are clad in a deep grey, virtually black manganese ironspot brick fabricated by Nebraska-based Endicott and are defined by a regular rhythm of punched window openings similar to those in 19th-century factories.
“The brick has a sheen that reflects light so that it becomes less black,” Marchetto says, adding that the mortar matches its color, and the façade’s geometric details are made of rust-color cast stone.
The brick, which cost significantly less than the zinc, was an economic as well as an astute design choice.
“The pairing of the two complementary facades makes the building look less massed,” Marchetto says. “We accentuated this on the front façade by recessing the brick portion, which includes the entrance to the municipal parking garage, 12 feet so it looks like the zinc façade is a popped-out bay window.”
The effect, he adds, is to break the building into two components that “fit into the scale of the block.”
The window frames of the zinc façade are the same shade of gray so they fade into the background. Those of the brick sections are black, making them virtually invisible.
The actual garage entrance tunnels underground, leaving the new architecture unencumbered.
In addition to the use of zinc, which is a 100 percent recyclable product that requires a low level of energy consumption for manufacturing, The Metropolitan Lofts has other green features.
The rear elevated courtyard, which is above the retail shops, has a green planted roof to manage and release stormwater, protect the membrane from UV rays, and provide added insulation.
The one- and two-bedroom residences feature ENERGY STAR-certified appliances, low-flow water-saving plumbing fixtures, quartz countertops, LED lighting, and hardwood wide-plank flooring.
The municipal garage also is green: It offers shared parking and is equipped with electric car- charging stations.
Marchetto says that The Metropolitan Lofts has been well-received. “It stands out because it’s unique and for the fact that the town loves it,” he says. “It creates a richness and excitement that I like. It’s a nice thing to deliver to the town; we’re pleased and proud of it.”
Architect Marchetto Higgins Stieve
Co-Developer Marshall B. Tycher, Roseland Residential Trust
Co-Developer Howard Irwin, Woodmont Properties
Planning Consultant Topology
Zinc Supplier VM Zinc
Zinc Fabricator B&B Sheet Metal
Brick Supplier Endicott