ODA New York – 420 Kent Avenue

ODA KentODA’s 420 Kent Avenue project will set new luxury living standards in Brooklyn, N.Y.

By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing

Life in major cities is changing and so are the expectations of the people who live in them. When ODA New York designs a project, it makes sure to take those into consideration. “Being able to be nimble and sensitive to those market needs is something that defines us,” Principal Eran Chen says.

A longtime veteran of the architecture industry, Chen founded ODA in 2007 in a studio apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side. After serving as a principal at another firm, “I came to a point where I felt the urge to open my own practice,” he recalls, noting that he began with a staff of only four people.ODA Kent info box

Today, ODA has a staff of 91 and a portfolio of more than 70 buildings in the United States and internationally that has earned it a reputation for imaginative designs. A current project for the company is 420 Kent Avenue, an 800,000 residential project in Brooklyn, N.Y., that consists of three towers.

Former politician and developer Eliot Spitzer approached ODA about 420 Kent, after buying land in the borough in 2015. At the time, Chen recalls, the tax benefits of affordable and inclusionary housing were set to end. “There was no definition of what the new program would entail,” he says.

“Eliot came over to me and said, ‘I really want to create an amazing project that would remain successful and meaningful on the shoreline for many years,’” Chen recalls, adding that Spitzer also wanted to have it designed quickly so it could start construction and achieve the tax benefits.

Despite the daunting aspects of the project, ODA accepted the challenge to accomplish Spitzer’s goal so that construction would start before the end of 2015. But the design firm also set out “to create a project that is definitely unique on the waterfront in Brooklyn today,” Chen says.

Setting New Standards

When finished, 420 Kent’s three towers will stand 22 stories with eight to 12 units on each level. The development will be located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood and be distinctly different than other structures in the area, Chen says.

“There are not many new construction developments south of the Williamsburg Bridge,” he says, explaining that the majority of them tend to be in the north. 420 Kent also will set itself apart with its high level of design.

Many of the buildings in the area, he explains, tend to feature generic architecture. “While they had a beautiful view towards the city, they were not necessarily as beautiful to look at,” Chen says, adding that some developers were not as willing to take a risk in the area.

“Eliot said in the beginning he wanted to invest in great design,” Chen recalls, noting that Spitzer also wanted to contribute to New York City’s skyline. “I think we accomplished those.”

One of the most unique aspects in 420 Kent is that every single apartment is a corner residence. “One of the most immediate ideas we came up with was that in buildings like that, the corner units are always more valuable,” he says.

“If you’ve got a living room with a beautiful corner, you’ve got an amazing view,” Chen continues. “We thought, ‘Can we design a building where every apartment with that floor plate would be a corner apartment?’”

The towers also feature curtain walls, while 25 percent of the apartments have substantial outdoor space, “which is not typical for residential towers,” he says. But Chen asserts that these spaces are more than just balconies.

Instead, ODA designed terraces for the units that are similar to those found in penthouse apartments. “By shifting the volumes in and out, we’ve created more conditions where apartments have this terrace that is furnishable,” Chen says. “The ability to go in and out of this location is unbelievable.”

Sustainable Steps

Green features have not passed 420 Kent by. Although the project is not aiming for LEED certification, sustainable elements are integrated throughout the towers. “What was really important to Eliot and his team was that the building functions well in a sustainable manner,” Chen says.

“We’ve followed every step possible to make it as sustainable as possible,” he says, noting that the towers use a triple-glazed system for the curtain wall, as well as feature green roofs and rainwater collection systems.

“Throughout the interior finishes, we’ve made sure to use recyclable materials to the extent that it is possible,” Chen says, adding that the general contractor, ZDG Construction Management, also is using local suppliers.

The towers also will feature bike storage areas as well as windows to the outside in every corridor. “[That] is something that is atypical in towers,” Chen says. “The ventilation systems also were the best that we could afford.”

Checking the Boxes

According to Chen, 420 Kent’s North Tower is close to completion. “We’re hoping by the end of the year that people would be able to move in,” he says, adding that the remaining two South Towers are expected to be finished by early spring 2019. “We’re definitely in the last steps of construction.” 

ODA also has gained experience that it will be able to apply to future work. “420 Kent Avenue was probably one of the most complex projects to get approved because it involved so many city agencies,” he says, noting that the company had to work closely with the New York City Department of City Planning and Department of Parks & Recreation.

The firm also had to collaborate with the US Army Corps of Engineers because of the remediation of environmental elements as well as local fire departments. “It had to do with access to our compound,” Chen recalls. 

“The complexities were really vast when it came to getting the building approved, certified and checking all the boxes with city engineers,” he says. “That taught us a lot about complex projects and [how to] do it with more efficiency.” 

Setting the Example

After 10 years, ODA has established itself as a leader in its market, which has been accomplished by its staff’s willingness to be inventive. “I like people to be critical thinkers and make the first step – although it might be scary – towards better goals,” Chen says.

“ODA has established a certain leadership by example by walking the walk and talking the talk,” he says. “Every building is another step in changing the status quo and doing things that other people might have been thinking about but never dared to do.”

The majority of the company’s work has been in New York City, but it has recently started branching out with work around the world. “We just started a project in Mexico City,” Chen reports, adding that ODA also has started on projects in Detroit and Washington, D.C. 

“People are really drawn to our perspective of what the future of architecture and what cities and buildings could look like,” he says. “They’re doing it based on the buildings they’ve seen us build here.”

Chen sees a strong future for ODA, which will not only extend its reach around the world, but also grow in the types of projects it builds. “We started our practice based on residential,” he recalls, adding that it grew into mixed-use and hospitality projects over time. “We’re seeing more public work coming in.

“At the end of the day, architecture is not a goal, but a tool to improve people’s lives and experiences in cities,” Chen says, noting that this approach could be applied to structures such as libraries, universities or healthcare projects. 

“The idea that I have for the company is to continue and investigate different horizons, put people first and find new formulas,” he says. “We’re going to see more of ODA around the world. I hope we can maintain that kind of edginess and interest as we reach new fields.”

Evolving Perspectives

ODA is seeing changing trends among buyers. Demand continues for housing, “but on the second hand, the buyers are much more educated and smarter,” Chen says. “They’re looking for unique features, not only unique places.”

While the emphasis used to be on “location, location, location,” the customers’ concerns have moved toward “product, product, product,” he says. These buyers especially look for elements that are sustainable, improve their quality of life and allow them to engage with the local communities.

“All of these elements are driving very different products versus what I saw 15 years ago,” Chen says, noting that a successful professional often dreamt of a small apartment in a building with a doorman on New York City’s Park Avenue.

Now, he says, they are looking for buildings with great amenities and mixed-use features. “It became very different,” he says, noting that this explains why Brooklyn has become so attractive to buyers. “It’s very interesting to learn from these new markets and how we can apply [these features] in places like Manhattan and other cities as well.” 

SIDEBAR – A Vibrant Area 

ODA New York is at work on other projects, which include Denizen Bushwick, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Located on the site of the former Rheingold Brewery, the project will provide 1 million square feet of apartment units in the borough’s Bushwick neighborhood.

The finished project will have several communal spaces open to the neighborhood, along with a 17,850-square-foot public park that will bisect the development, creating a green promenade and two 400-foot by 200-foot blocks. “These masses are further perforated by a sequence of meandering, interconnected courtyards which ultimately lead to the promenade,” it says.

“Over the pair of these N.Y. city blocks, ODA’s superimposed the layout of woven streets in a typical old town core,” the company says. “Within the courtyard areas, lushly landscaped and partially covered walkways and corridors will give way to a parade and plazas, and accessible amenities designed to continue to promote a sense of community in this increasingly vibrant area.

“Complementing the structure and efficiency of a more typical grid, the layout will encourage both leisure and discovery, the guiding principles of the design,” ODA says. “To support the vibrant local art scene, ODA will collaborate with local artists to commission all of the art in the complex.”

The site, ODA notes, intends to become an integral part of the neighborhood with porous architecture where locals can have a platform for activity and interaction. “With ODA’s implementation of meandering, interconnected courtyards, a bisecting green promenade, and communal activities, 123 Melrose will be a veritable city within the city,” the company says.

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