August 3, 2017

Q&A with Erikjan Vermeulen, Head of Architecture and Partner at Concrete

New Jersey's tallest residential tower, Jersey City Urby features a lobby café and living room, communal kitchen, outdoor pool terrace with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and more.

by New York Spaces

Jersey City Urby
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

NYS: What is your architecture and interiors firm known for?

Erikjan Vermeulen, Head of Architecture and Partner at Concrete: Concrete is known for branding in hospitality, retail, and now, residential design. Our projects include citizenM hotels around the world, W Hotels in London and Switzerland, and the Zoku Hotel in Amsterdam. We've also designed stores for Rituals and Bose, among other retailers.

NYS: We are so excited about Jersey City Urby. What can you tell us about it?

Erikjan Vermeulen: In 2009, Concrete was approached by Ironstate Development to create a better rental-housing product for New York's densely populated areas. 'Better' was defined as a product that would more adequately meet the needs of the modern urban resident, offer higher value for the money, and facilitate a more positive way of living. Together, we came up with the Urby concept. The first location opened in 2016 in Staten Island.

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Jersey City Urby is the second Urby location. What began as a small puzzle of apartments ultimately became the biggest project in the history of Concrete. We designed the building from the inside out: By identifying residents' needs, designing programming to meet these needs, and creating spaces that people would want to use, we created what is now Jersey City Urby. For us, it was very special to create a living brand, and to contribute to a family of Urby buildings.

NYS: What inspired the Jenga-like tower design? Tell us about the views!

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Erikjan Vermeulen: The architectural design reflects the organic nature of the Urby brand, emphasizing views, space and connection. The tower is comprised of stacked blocks, creating a vertical neighborhood and an expressive and playful structure. The layout of the tower revolves around the spectacular views and a very efficient core—with elevators and stairs in the heart, and 12 apartments per floor wrapped around this center.

By extending some of the floors by seven feet, the dimensions and nature of the apartments vary. With cantilevering floors, studios (S-units) can turn into one-bedrooms (M-units), while corner one-bedrooms can become two-bedrooms (L-units). The end result is a diverse offering of 12 different layouts ranging from 400 to 1,000 square feet. The cantilevering floors also form striking blocks, so the tower appears as if a child built it from wooden blocks.

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

NYS: Tell us about the interiors. How many rental apartments does it contain and how does it make use of space?

Erikjan Vermeulen: All of the 762 apartments feel larger than they are as a result of smart use of available space. Despite being compact, the units were built with optimal flow and spatial balance in mind. Sliding doors between connecting rooms let residents fully open up the apartment and experience its full size and sense of space. All units have windows that span the width of the apartment, providing panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. The large windows bring daylight into the residences and make them feel spacious.

NYS: What amenities does Jersey City Urby offer?

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Erikjan Vermeulen: Communal life at Urby is actively programmed to encourage interaction and connection among residents and to make them feel at home. Instead of a traditional lobby with an ordinary doorman, Jersey City Urby has an entrance cafe? with its very own barista who welcomes residents and visitors with a delicious cup of coffee. At the back of the lobby is the residents' mailroom area. Next to the mailroom table is a large, custom-made marble water fountain that provides filtered tap water, saving residents from having to buy—and throw out—tons of plastic bottles.

The 9th floor is reserved for the resident-only communal areas, which includes a gym with cardio equipment, weights and a yoga studio. There's also a landscaped deck with a swimming pool and phenomenal views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. The garden room and the communal kitchen overlook the deck and a landscaped garden. The communal kitchen features a large dinner table and is decked out with professional cooking equipment.

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Jersey City Urby's director of programming organizes the events and programs held in the communal spaces in collaboration with local artisans and small businesses, which helps to encourage connections between residents and the surrounding community.

NYS: What was a favorite aspect of the design for your team?

Erikjan Vermeulen: We take a holistic approach to our assignments and aim to create an optimal experience for residents. With Jersey City Urby and Staten Island Urby, we had the opportunity to do this in the residential sector, whereas our previous experience was mostly in hospitality and retail.

NYS: Tell us about the cafe?. Did you design the space here as well? What did you want it to reflect?

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Erikjan Vermeulen: The entrance cafe is a collaboration between Jersey City Urby and 9 Bar Cafe?, a local coffee bar run by an Italian woman named Stefania Cocozza who serves the best coffee, pastries, and small dishes in town. The cafe is the perfect place to start the day or unwind after work.

The space that stretches from the street to a small courtyard at the back of the building is a metaphor for a typical home. The entrance resembles a front porch, the cafe area serves as a dining room, and the area behind it feels like a living room. The so-called "dining area" features small tables and chairs, a communal table for getting work done, and a long bench with tables that runs along the front window beneath steel arches and a wooden ceiling. Newspapers and magazines are available on the tables and shelves between the arches. The large marble bar in the center of the room has high table seating for those who want to enjoy a quick coffee. The walls are covered with large cabinets filled with coffee and Jersey City-related accessories, books and art.

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Tucked away behind the bar is the intimate living room area. A large bespoke couch lines the space, creating warm and cozy corners to relax in.

NYS: What does the rooftop offer residents?

Erikjan Vermeulen: A large terrace in the center of the 9th-floor deck connects the garden room and communal kitchen to the raised pool area. The terrace features a large outdoor kitchen with grilling areas, ideal for outdoor gatherings on sunny days. Picnic tables and lounge seating around a fire pit located under a large pergola create the perfect place to spend hot summer nights. After sunset, the raised pool deck can also be used as a stage for outdoor movies, which are projected onto a screen that hangs from the pergola. These areas are used to host cooking classes, culinary events and musical performances.

NYS: We love the idea of a communal kitchen. What did you have in mind when you included this in the plans?

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Erikjan Vermeulen: The kitchen is designed to feel like grandmother's kitchen. It's a place where people not only feel at home, but can also be programmed with events for residents to enjoy. It connects with the garden room, which is a place to relax after a workout, or to hang out and read a book with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

NYS: Where can potential residents get more information?

Erikjan Vermeulen: More information can be found at JerseyCityUrby.com and @UrbyLife on Instagram and Facebook.

NYS: What are you working on next?

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

Erikjan Vermeulen: In New Jersey, we designed Urby Harrison, which recently began leasing. We're also behind the design of SciTech Scity, a new addition to Jersey City's Liberty Science Center that will include educational facilities, research labs and housing. A fourth Urby location will be built in Stamford, Connecticut. And in Manhattan, the hotel citizenM Bowery is currently under construction. We also have projects in development in cities around the world. More information can be found at www.concreteamsterdam.nl

Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.
Jersey City Urby; Photographs by Ewout Huibers.

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