Press | January 1, 2003

Magnusson Architecture and Planning, PC: Architects for Community Development

Development New York


‘Back on the MAP’ is a phrase that can easily be applied to the re-establishment of Magnusson Architecture and Planning, P.C., (MAP), a firm committed to creating better communities through better architecture. Known for its creative design that is both practical and respectful of its context, MAP has attracted and continues to attract a wide spectrum of private and public clients including agencies, institutions, real estate developers, schools, and non-profit organizations.


“We are known for our work in urban areas where we partner with community groups and developers to help rebuild the urban fabric,” said Magnus Magnusson, principal. “Our firm finds this work both fulfilling and socially redeemable,” Magnusson continued, “great architecture can emerge from this kind of work.” And so it has.


Back on the Map

Originally established in 1985, the firm was re-launched one year ago after separating from an earlier merger with a large healthcare firm. Magnusson and MAP’s other original principal, Petr Stand, APA, are now back at the helm, having added a third principal, Joseph Lengeling, AIA. Mr. Lengeling brings to the team a strong design point-of-view and a depth of experience in educational facilities. Each principal has more than 25 years of experience and is working toward diversifying MAP’s practice, which is already well established in the fields of community design, development and planning, especially within the area of affordable urban housing.


“When we re-launched MAP, we knew that we wanted to further establish our name in the housing market,  beyond just affordable housing, and that we also wanted to increase our educational practice,” says Magnusson. “The depth of Joe’s experience in educational design—where he has distinguished himself as the designer (while at another firm) of the new Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan—will help us deepen and extend our practice in that arena,” says Stand. Joe also completed projects including The Berkeley Carroll School Science Suite Renovations in Brooklyn, New York and a master plan for the extension of the Duke University Medical Center. MAP’s current school projects include the planning for a new 130,000-square-foot Bronx Campus for Mercy College and a new charter school in the Bronx.


Melrose Commons

With the firm’s increasing growth and diversity, however, MAP does not forget its roots and its ties to the local communities. “We are known for our work in inner city areas, most notably Melrose Commons in the South Bronx, which we have been involved in for more than a decade,” Magnusson says. “In these areas we partner with community advocacy groups to help rebuild languishing neighborhoods.” Melrose Commons is a 35-block urban renewal area radiating from Melrose Avenue and East 161st Street in the Bronx.


MAP’s success in this kind of work is epitomized by the variety of awards the firm has received. MAP recently received a local Builders Association Award for La Puerta de Vitalidad, a 60-unit, mixed-use, affordable housing development, and a 2002 Best In Category award by the Advancement of Gerontological Environments for La Casa de Felicidad, an 85-unit senior citizens residence. (Both projects are in Melrose Commons, and are joint ventures of Nos Quedamos, a local community group, and Phipps Houses, the oldest non-profit housing developer in New York City.) The buildings are designed to include such community spaces as social services offices, building management offices, security, and generous lobbies on the street level, with the majority of resident apartments on the six upper floors. The buildings are located opposite each other, forming a gateway to the transformed Melrose Commons neighborhood. Four other developments are on the boards in Melrose.


Mixed-Use Buildings

In addition to Melrose Commons, the firm has numerous projects under way, including new housing developments in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Many of these projects are mixed-use, providing housing, childcare centers, and medical services—as well as commercial space, which is of particular importance in revitalizing areas where an insufficient number of retail stores previously existed.


One example is 1955 First Avenue, a 242-unit mixed-use apartment building being jointly developed by BFC Partners and L+M Equity Participants, using an innovative financing method called a ‘50-30-20’. This method is similar to the popular ‘80-20’ model, where 80 percent of the units are ‘market rate’ and 20 percent ‘affordable’. The ‘50-30-20’, however, offers 50 percent market rate, 30 percent middle income, and 20 percent affordable apartments.


Brownfield Development
MAP was recently selected as the architect for the first New York City-sponsored brownfield redevelopment, located in the former Rheingold Brewery site in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. This multi-block site, formerly an industrial use area, has lain dormant for the last thirty years—until the new housing development began construction last fall. The first phase of this project includes 60 townhomes and a 30 unit condominium building incorporating a new utility infrastructure and newly designed streets. Sponsored by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and developed by The Bluestone Organization, this project includes subsidies from city and state sources.


Community Facilities
In addition to housing and community planning, MAP provides architectural design for other community-based building types that are typically part of a supportive neighborhood, including community health facilities, schools, daycare centers, and stores. One example is the Bayside Medical Arts Building in Queens, NY, a 20,000-square-foot facility for a neighborhood medical practice.


Addressing the city’s need for more educational facilities, Lengeling notes that the expense of building a school in New York City is prompting an increasing number of communities to seek creative ways to meet this need. Accordingly, MAP recently helped a non-profit organization explore ways of becoming part of a larger mixed-use housing development and obtain low-interest bond financing to facilitate construction of a 20,000 square-foot charter school.


History and Tradition are Key
“All thoughtful urban design starts by investigating the larger issues to see how they affect our design at the local level,” Lengeling says. It is by approaching each project in this way that MAP can produce creative and innovative designs that are sensitive to the history and tradition of the city. “We do bottom-up planning instead of top-down planning,” says Stand. “We essentially take the needs voiced by the community and housing developer and give it form in the creation of a customized urban building.”


“We believe that architects can make a difference in the quality of life in cities,” says Stand, “and that’s what we do. We create meaningful architecture.”