This property lies in the heart of the historic Hamilton Park area of downtown Jersey City and was originally built in 1867. Initially intended to be a simple renovation on the original frame, it was discovered that underneath the aged surface was an even worse aged structure of rotten lumber and disintegrated brick. Even by 1867 standards, this was a poorly built home and time had not been kind.
Once it became clear that the house had to be rebuilt entirely, the owner realized this represented an opportunity to build something very special. Frank Sorisi was hired to design the redevelopment and came together with Eric Bourgie of Polar Green to execute this project, which quickly diverted into an exploration of its passive potential and sustainability of design and construction. After all, just a few years prior, hurricane Sandy had landed on the shores of Jersey City and flooded the neighborhood.
The team wanted to ensure this new construction would better resist the test of time than the original building, benefit from increased resilience in the face of the inclement Northeast climate, and not be yet another participant in the depletion of the global environment that is known to be a driving factor behind the increasingly uncertain climate.
Armed with this mindset, Frank and Eric went to work.
It was important to Frank that, notwithstanding the ultra modernity of the home’s advanced building systems technology and performance of operation, the architecture of the project integrates with the historic and current context of its surroundings.
With its narrowness and verticality, it would have been easy to fall into the standard rowhouse floorplan designs and end up with several disconnected secluded spaces that would substantiate the home’s smallness and create a sense of claustrophobia.
This was solved by the inclusion of a full height open shaft in the front portion of the house that effectively creates connection between the stories and increases openness of floorplan, maximizes natural light penetration from its large south facing windows, and promotes more of a loft feel with its staggered mezzanines in comparison with the undesirable crampedness often found in traditional rowhouses.
Although in order to achieve this design one bedroom had to be given up, it was thought quality of space was more important than pure quantity of floor area.
In the end, we were able to fit 3 Bedrooms, 3 Bathrooms and 3 Living Rooms in the floorplan spread over 5 stories of height (walk-out basement + 4 stories), including a 260 sqft penthouse room with access to a 200 sqft roof terrace with a beautiful view of downtown Manhattan.
The house’s basement and 4-story load-bearing walls were built with Insulated Concrete Forms from top to bottom, ensuring that its reinforced poured concrete structure would provide for a certainty of air tightness and survive centuries of gravity, the heat and cold of seasonal cycles and near shore-line winds. This also helped the project achieve it’s 2-hour party-wall fire-resistance rating without having to add, as typical, a layer of CMU wall in addition to an interior 2x4 wall, thereby saving up to 6” of space and adding to the finished interior width.
The front and back non-load-bearing walls above the basement, where space was less of an issue on the house’s 42 ft depth, were built of double and triple stud walls ranging from 17 to 27 inches in thickness.
It did not take long for the team to discover that Passive Houses not only represent a challenge of design, but also and perhaps more so, a challenge of construction. It necessitated significantly more presence on site than other projects as well as stronger directions for the contractor and its workers. The construction also required consistent education and training on the concepts, methods of constructions and materials necessary to the achievement of the demanding performance targeted.
Narrowness of the property, at just 13’4”.