Marchetto Higgins Stieve building wins architectural award
True innovation was shown by Marchetto Higgins Stieve, a Hoboken architectural firm – in its design of its “Apse-Traction” project of a church-turned office on Willow Ave., which was honored with a Merit Award by the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-NJ).
The church-turned office, originally designed with a flat back, was completely restructured by Marchetto Higgins Stieve to add a modern interpretation of an apse (semi-dome) to the back of the church. The design of the apse combined the old traditional architecture of the building with a new modern twist that sets the building apart from many traditional European church structures.
“Apse Addition” at Marchetto Higgins Stieve Architects
The church, which is located at 1225 Willow Ave. (corner of 13th St.), was originally home to a Norwegian congregation before it was sold to the American Legion in the 1930s. Dean Marchetto, the founder of Marchetto Higgins Stieve, purchased the church in 1995 for his firm’s office, and decided to add the apse in response to the growing firm’s need for more space.
Unlike many traditional European churches, which have a semicircular recess with a semi-dome at the back of the church, also known as an apse, this church had a flat back. As a modern architect who draws inspiration from well-known contemporary architects like Charles Gwathmey, for whom he worked early in his career, and Frank Gehry, Marchetto liked the idea of adding a modern interpretation of an apse.
“This project presented a unique opportunity to expand a modern design studio, and in doing so recall the former presence of the late 19th century religious architecture in the context of 21st century design and manufacturing methodologies,” said Marchetto.
“Rather than building a traditional apse, we decided to do an abstract, modern intervention and play the idea of the old and new. That’s the fun that architects can have with new additions to older buildings.”
In working with the Product-Architecture Lab at the Stevens Institute of Technology, a pioneering graduate program that integrates the study of architecture and product design, Marchetto Higgins Stieve was able to come up with an innovative apse design that paid homage to the building’s past uses as a religious institution and as the home of a veterans’ organization, but that better reflected our contemporary culture.
The construction process started with a heavy steel frame comprised of bent tubes that was connected to the back of the church. On top of the frame a sub-frame, consisted of light-gauge metal with ribs, was installed to which a bendable corrugated plastic covering was attached, which created a thermal barrier between the inside and outside. A waterproofed, three-coat stucco wall was then mounted on top of that, into which bendable zinc shingles and a glass curtain wall were installed to make up the facade.
The complex geometric design and layout of the zinc tiles, which were produced with the help of the students at the Product-Architecture Lab via a unique computer program, entailed interlocking the tiles to form a waterproof seal that hugs the curves of the apse — the wider the openness of the curve, the bigger the panel; and the tighter the curve, the smaller the panel.
“The students at the Product-Architecture Lab created a computer program that was able to determine the size of the hexagonal tiles and the pattern in which they would be installed — almost like a paint-by-numbers kit,“ said Marchetto.
The zinc tiles were manufactured by VMZINC, a specialist in innovative zinc products; and laser-cut by Maloya Laser, a specialized state-of-the-art metal product manufacture. Marchetto Higgins Stieve used three muted shades for the tile colors, which made for a unique expression on the exterior of the building, according to Marchetto.
The new addition meshes well with the existing church, said Marchetto, which he described the interior as “mission style, a modern design that is warm because it’s made with a lot of wood.”
“This approach might not be right for many clients; but as an architect, and, being that I own the building, I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted,” he said. “This project just felt right for the inside of the church, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s a very inspiring place to work.”