On Route 571: `Uncorporate’ Corporate Park

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Barbara Fox and Jack Florek were prepared for

the October 31, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

New Offices in Class A-Typical Space

It is not visible from the road, but emerges like a

kind of colossus out of the branches and brambles at the north end

of the long narrow path behind the Lawrence Animal Hospital.

At first sight — with its 5,700 square feet of space standing

one and a half stories high, white clapboard siding, green roof, and

abundant glass windows glittering like Teflon in the sun — it

seems to evince a kind of space-age elegance. But a closer look of

the exterior quickly reveals that this modern building, from its

raised

rafters down to its natural stone base, is actually a restored early

20th century barn.

Not exactly the sort of place most people would expect to find the

offices of an architectural firm whose designs house the latest in

21st century telecom equipment.

Nonetheless, these are the new digs of Silverberg Associates Inc.,

Architects. In an interview that took place in his corner office of

the newly remodeled building, Paul Silverberg, founder and president

of the firm, speaks of his pleasure at seeing the results of a lot

of labor come to fruition. "I think the building speaks for

itself.

It’s an excellent representation of what we can do as a firm, and

it serves as a kind of calling card for us."

The barn was constructed in the 1920s and was last used in the 1970s

as an animal research facility. Since then it has sat dormant.

"When

we started, this place was a mess. We chased out the bats and the

raccoons, took out all the junk. More dumpsters than I could

count,"

says Silverberg. "Fortunately, the basic structure was sound."

"Shortly after we’d finished the building, a friend of mine came

in who hadn’t stepped foot in here since before we started

construction,"

says architect Paul Silverberg. "He was literally speechless,

he was stammering after he took the tour through the place. All he

could say was that the transformation is unbelievable."

Silverberg Associates moved in earlier this year after

having designed the plans for the rehab of the building, enduring

a year-long construction process, and successfully negotiating with

the neighborhood association that strongly objected to the setting

up of a commercial enterprise in the 70-year-old barn. The move

allowed

the firm to consolidate offices from Nassau Street in Princeton and

Quakerbridge Road in Hamilton.

The firm does architecture, planning, and interior design, with a

focus on telecommunications. "Much of the kind of work we do can

be characterized as technically challenging work," says

Silverberg.

"For example, we have a contract with Verizon to do a number of

its switching facilities to help expand its telecom network operation

centers, which are control centers that run a lot of the

telecommunications

systems and data centers." Office buildings, academic facilities,

and laboratories are also well represented in Silverberg Associates’

portfolio.

Some might see little in common between designing a telecommunications

lab and revamping a weather-beaten barn, but Silverberg says that

his firm approached this project exactly as they would any other.

"We work the very same way. We would advocate doing the same kinds

of things for a client, no different," says Silverberg. "We

would hope that a client would have the foresight to see it through

and work with us on the vision we’re trying to present to them."

Although the exterior of the building still retains elements of the

building’s previous incarnation as an agricultural entity, the inside

of the building is anything but barn-like. Its high ceilings and white

interior, along with its abundance of natural light facilitated by

a large crescent window in the roof that spans 65 feet, give it a

refreshing feeling of vast space rare in a work environment.

This feeling of space is carefully tailored to suit the needs of the

firm. "We have an open working environment here, and we wanted

to facilitate that sense of openness, teamwork, and accessibility,"

explains Silverberg. "And natural light was important to us. You

can see the sky from anywhere in this place. Working in this kind

of environment, our employees really appreciate the openness and I

think it gives them a sense of psychological freedom as well."

Silverberg, who is married and has two small children, was born in

New York City, moved to Newark when he was three months old, and grew

up on the Jersey shore. His father worked in sales and his mother

worked as a secretary for a physician’s practice. He attended the

University of Michigan, where he received his bachelors degree in

1977 and his master’s degree in architecture two years later.

Moving to Princeton in 1981, he worked at several

architectural

firms, including Holt & Morgan, before setting out on his own. He

founded Silverberg Associates in 1985. "Everything here started

with just a drafting board, an attic, and me," he says. He now

has 25 employees working with him.

The particular difficulties of remodeling an existing structure were

not lost on Silverberg, and he admits that he enjoys the challenge.

"Logistically, it’s more of a challenge to remodel than it would

have been to build from the ground up," he says. "But behind

everything we knew we had a building with a sound foundation, sound

framing. Our task was to upgrade the rest of the infrastructure such

as utilities and interior spaces."

In addition, the particular zoning strictures the property fell under

played a key role in the decision. "It’s a strange parcel of

property

because it is designated for commercial use in the middle of a

residential

area," explains Silverberg. "So we needed to maintain the

existing commercial use, and if we had demolished the building and

started over again we would have had to reestablish a whole new set

of planning approvals. So for this building the proper solution was

to revitalize what was here."

One particular aspect of the project that Silverberg is most grateful

for was the opportunity to learn first-hand what a typical owner

experiences

when going through the building process.

"As an architect, you’re usually on the outside looking in to

various aspects of the process. But in this case, we experienced

everything

first-hand," says Silverberg. "We purchased the property,

we had to secure the financing from the bank, and we were intimately

involved in the construction process. It gave us a far greater

appreciation

of what a typical owner would have to do in order to navigate the

steps to bring a building of any kind to closure."

The general contractor for the work on the project was Doyle Builders,

located on Carter Street in Princeton. "We have a long-standing

friendship and working association with them that goes many years.

They are well-known in the area and that was a great advantage in

doing the project," says Silverberg.

Area subcontractors who were also involved include Active

Conditioning,

of Edison, which did the heating and air conditioning, and John

Holman,

who did the framing. Hamilton Supply Company supplied a lot of the

building materials, and Mill Roofing did all the roofing work. The

mechanical engineering was done by M & E Engineers in Somerville.

One of the challenges of working on any project is to combine the

practical requirements of a particular structure with some more

creative

elements. This came into sharp focus for Silverberg while drawing

up designs for the remodeling of the barn. "As a practice we’re

always looking to push the edges of things in a way that is practical

and reasonable," says Silverberg. "When I was sitting down

and doing the initial schematics for the barn it was clear to me that

we wanted a lot of natural light. So I took a big bold pen and

sketched

that big curved window. I thought to myself, `Uh oh, can we do this?’

But it felt like the right thing to do."

Knowing that the window would require the installation of curved

beams,

and leery of the potential expense and availability, Silverberg

questioned

the practicality of the window. But to his happy surprise it turned

out not to be especially difficult. "All the curved beams that

went into it actually came to about $2,800, and they came out of a

mill in Wisconsin that makes them for a living. It wasn’t a big deal.

It was a nice victory," says Silverberg. "We did something

dramatic, it made all the difference as far as the feel in the space,

and it all worked. Those are the kinds of sensibilities that we try

to bring not just to this building, but all the buildings that we

do."

Sitting back in his chair, Silverberg glances around the room and

says "this is our statement. We want to be above the mundane.

But you still have to be able to afford it, and the wind and rain

shouldn’t be blowing through the building. It’s the right

balance."

— Jack Florek

Silverberg Associates, 3967 Princeton Pike,

Princeton

08542. Paul Silverberg RA, president. 609-921-1867; fax, 609-921-8326.

(Home page: www.silverberg-arch.com).

Top Of Page
On Route 571: `Uncorporate’ Corporate Park

What’s the architectural equivalent of comfort food?

Some would say anything that is not a skyscraper, others would say

anything that is not a standard office park.

Just as some restaurants are adjusting their menus, moving from away

from dishes laced with fancy sauces to home-cooking entrees like

meatloaf,

so some companies are looking for cozier, non-traditional space.

Silverberg Associates, an architectural practice, has moved from

Nassau

Street and Quakerbridge Road to an early 20th century barn on

Princeton

Pike (see story above), and Thacker & Frank, an advertising agency,

is building a non-traditional addition to its current space on

Princeton-Hightstown

Road.

Part of this building’s charm will be its name, Workopolis, meant

to be the direct opposite of the traditional suburban office park.

"We thought of calling it UnCorporate Park," says Robert

Frank,

a partner in the 17-year-old firm. "The name Workopolis will brand

the entire property."

Let it be noted that Thacker & Frank’s current property is also very

uncorporate. In fact, it looks quite ordinary from the road; it’s

three houses, with the ad agency occupying 2,900 square feet and three

tenants — an oral surgeon, Full Circle Family Health and Massage,

and Kumon Learning Center — in the rest.

The 5,000-foot addition will change that. Terry Smith of Richardson

Smith has designed a three-story, space-age structure between two

of the houses. The glazed metal roof tilts at a rakish angle. "We

are trying to create some neat looking space," says Frank. "It

will be highly visible from the road," says Frank.

"We wanted to add something with roadside visibility between the

two existing nondescript ’70s buildings," says Smith. "One

block is rotated slightly and jutting out in front of them, and from

the street it is very clear that this is something new. The other

building block is more of a box." The top-floor front office (yet

to be rented) overlooks Route 571 and has floor-to-ceiling glass.

The conference room (to be used by the ad agency) has a sloping

18-foot

ceiling and comes complete with a fireplace.

The main level is reached by walking up a long ramp from a lower

lobby.

"On one side of the ramp’s handrail will be a glass floor that

looks into the art department on the lower level," says Smith,

whose firm is known for the design of two Nassau Street

establishments,

Micawber Books and Triumph Brew Pub. "Above the ramp, this

flooring

slopes up and over the existing house. It’s a small building, very

tightly designed, compressed and exciting. Things are happening in

a tight area. We are trying to allow the interior space to be very

dynamic.

"We did a Class A building from a quality standpoint but with

Class B pricing," claims Frank. "We don’t have the office

park and the marble atrium overhead." Financing is being handled

through Yardville Bank, and Integrated Construction, of Bristol,

Pennsylvania,

is doing the building and is supposed to finish by mid December. The

ad agency is doing its own leasing but will protect brokers.

"We thought of this five years ago and a year ago decided to

revise

the plans. There is a big difference in the plans between then and

now," Frank says. "We have a lot more flexibility. We can

add or close doors and add or subtract space for our own needs. The

new building is contiguous to us on all three floors."

Thacker & Frank is giving up some of its current space but adding

a total of 600 square feet in the new space, including the conference

room and a reception area with fireplace, plus an expansion in the

basement for the art department. "The windows are four feet by

five feet," he quickly adds, "and there is more light down

there than in the typical office."

The Thacker & Frank agency does corporate/consumer marketing programs

including literature, direct mail, print, newsletters, and video.

Among its clients are Miele, Digifocus, Prince Tennis, the New Jersey

Economic Development Authority, Princeton Insurance, Blinke, and Bank

One.

Thacker & Frank has come a long way from 1984 when it

was listed in Rob Thacker’s name only, and the two men shared a room

with architect Michael Landau at 20 Nassau Street. Thacker is a 1980

graduate of the University of Tennessee and Frank went to St. Peter’s,

Class of 1978, and has an MBA from Pace. "When we took another

200 square feet, it seemed such a monumental decision," says

Frank.

"And we learned what it was like to be a tenant. Now that we are

landlords, we did a whole brochure, a corny philosophical thing, on

how we treat our tenants like we would want to be treated."

One pressing tenant need is signage. Frank tells an anecdote about

the Full Circle practice. In its previous space on Route 571 it had

a small sign that attracted only eight "walk-ins" over the

course of the year. When Full Circle moved to Thacker & Frank’s

"uncorporate

park" it gained better signage and had 87 walk-ins that year.

This little uncorporate park is located at the intersection of Old

Trenton Road and Route 571, and the rush hour backup requires

thousands

of drivers to go slowly past those signs daily. But with at least

two new tenants at this spot, the attention value of the signage will

inevitably get diluted.

The ad agency is solving this problem in a characteristic way, by

making use of good design. "We’ll have the `Workopolis’ name in

stainless steel at the top, and signage for all our tenants at the

bottom, but under the Workopolis name we will feature month-by-month

promotions for each tenant, including us," says Frank. "So

everyone will have a chance to get top billing."

Atypical buildings are not for everyone. Frank says he has been

getting

calls from New York companies who want to get out of New York. One

company needed 3,700 square feet — a perfect size for this

building,

which can lease up from 850 to 3,725 square feet. It wanted the

location

— just 200 yards from the new Hightstown bypass that connects

to the New Jersey Turnpike. But the New York company needed all its

space on one floor.

Sometimes only an office park will do.

— Barbara Fox

Thacker & Frank Advertising, 339

Princeton-Hightstown

Road, Cranbury 08512. Rob Thacker/Robert Frank, principals.

609-490-0999;

fax, 609-448-4343. Home page: www.tandfcom.com

Corrections or additions?


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