The Jersey Boys

OMA’s proposed tower looms over the neighborhooring Powerhouse.
Courtesy Office for Metropolitan Architecture

The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) unveiled its first U.S. project since its New York office broke away last summer to form the firm REX, taking many of OMA’s stateside projects with it. On February 26, Rem Koolhaas unveiled a 52-story mixed-use tower that will rise in Jersey City’s fast-gentrifying Powerhouse Arts District on a site that once housed an artists’ commune. He gave a lecture-style presentation complete with slides to press, politicians, and developers assembled at the Jersey City Museum.

The 1.2 million-square-foot development for BLDG Management and the Athena Group features two slabs set at 90-degree angles to each other, which will house apartments, a hotel, and a restaurant. These cantilever over an immense cube set upon a full-block plinth. The lower levels contain additional housing, live-work spaces for artists, and gallery and retail space. 

Koolhaas explained that OMA had taken the typical towers so prevalent in Jersey City and literally turned them on their side. “In current architecture, there is an incredible adoration of the computer, of flowing forms,” he said. “We felt in the generic shapes, there is still a lot not yet explored.” He also repeatedly emphasized the integral role structural engineers WSP Cantor Seinuk played in creating the “super-structure” that keeps the Jenga-like pieces aloft. 

The building will have an unusual appearance from Manhattan, where its profile will resemble a square popsicle. According to Shohei Shigematsu, head of OMA New York, the top section will be sheathed in glass while the bottom slab and cube will be outfitted in “something precast, probably concrete or plastic, whichever is more economical.” The budget is currently set at $400 million, and BLDG expects that construction will be finished within three to four years. 

Koolhaas talked about how PATH and 9/11 made Jersey City “almost a part of Manhattan” and went on to discuss how the roofs would function as open spaces for public interaction, much like Rockefeller Center. Anticipating a wall of high-rises along the Hudson, Koolhaas pointed out that the tower would maintain its profile. “Basically, our building is trying to respond to a future situation,” he said. 

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