FUELED BY LEGACY, VISION, AND PURPOSE, THIS HOBOKEN ARCHITECTURE FIRM KEEPS LOOKING TOWARD THE SKY.
BY ELIZABETH HAZARD • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Dean Marchetto, founding principal of MHS Architecture, began his career in the 1980s, at a time Hoboken was on the brink of an electrifying resurgence. The young firm grew with the city, one skyline-revitalizing development at a time, soon expanding beyond the Hudson River waterfront into other areas of New Jersey and New York. Joined by principals Michael Higgins and Bruce Stieve in the year 2000, and more recently by Michael Buldo and Vince Marchetto, the principals noted they still take the same approach to each and every project these 40 years later.
“At MHS, our completed projects are not just about designing structures, they are about creating sensible growth that fosters vibrant communities,” said Marchetto. “We are committed to providing access to safe, affordable, and aging-friendly neighborhoods. Our dedication and care ensure that these places not only exist, but thrive, as evidenced by their widespread popularity, positive reception, and high utilization rates. This is more than our job – it’s our passion.”
The leaders behind MHS, an architectural, planning, urban, and interior design firm with a remarkable 42-year history of creating award-winning placemaking projects, the principals steer a team with a focus on mixed-use developments that transform and build communities. With a lengthy portfolio of finished projects that range in size from five to 40 stories, MHS Architecture employs a design approach that integrates modern architectural style into existing urban areas.
The team understands they’re doing more than just designing structures; they’re actively participating in the creation of vibrant, walkable neighborhoods with the potential to evolve into cultural hubs. Marchetto noted land planning and urban design redevelopment initiatives form an integral part of the firm’s practice.
“In our work with planning and urban design, we try and breathe new life into aged communities,” he said. “Our large-scale master planning projects are meticulously designed, adhering to principles of Smart Growth, new urbanism, and sustainability. We design innovative buildings and initiate urban planning strategies that revitalize aging downtown areas. It’s not merely about creating spaces; it’s about creating sustainable, lively, and interactive communities, transforming the old into something new, vibrant, and full of life.”
The areas encircling New York City have demonstrated immense potential for growth and revitalization. It’s played an important role in MHS’ success and growth over the years. “We started out fulfilling a need for new housing in urban areas right here in New Jersey, especially the areas on the Hudson River waterfront,” said managing principal Michael Higgins. Proudly noting their own impact on Hoboken alone, MHS completed more than 100 projects in the one square-mile city famed for being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra.
In fact, in the 1990s, MHS built Sinatra Park on the waterfront, where a plaque dedicated to Sinatra also bears the architects’ names. “He is Hoboken’s favorite son, but it’s nice to be a close second,” the duo joked.
Considering the significant transformations and the emergence of new energy and open spaces along the Hudson River, Higgins commented, “What was once an area dominated by industrial structures, the waterfront now stands as a model of successful urban design and planning. It sets a prime example for other waterfront locales on the effective utilization of space.”
MHS also enjoys the fast-paced environment of the communities they’ve helped elevate over the years. “The thrill lies in witnessing these buildings and places come to life,” Higgins elaborated. “Everything in our world moves at a different pace. Agility and quick thinking are critical to our success. We are continually faced with changes, and it’s our duty to resolve issues and navigate through complexities like building codes, zoning issues, and approvals, all the way through construction. It’s our responsibility to streamline the process.”
One project of note is Journal Square, a vibrant business district, residential area, and transportation hub in the now booming enclave of Jersey City. The team was tapped by the city in 2007 to steer the redevelopment. “If you go to Journal Square now, it’s on fire,” said Marchetto. “With high-rise towers sprouting up on every corner of the Square, it’s a testament to the fact that meticulous planning often leads to the successful and comprehensive development of an area.”
The pair expressed that the revival of areas like Journal Square and the vitality they’ve contributed to is exhilarating, both for them and their team. “Just a simple lunch break stroll through one of the spaces we’ve shaped is enough to make one feel truly energized,” noted Marchetto. “It’s challenging to detach from it because it genuinely brings a sense of fulfillment.”
MHS adeptly navigates the delicate equilibrium between commercial objectives and community involvement, with a keen emphasis on pedestrian safety and traffic fluidity. “Our conviction lies in fostering walkable downtowns and appreciating the environmental advantage of concentrated development in urban hubs where transportation is sustainable,” Marchetto stated. “Reducing car dependence and promoting sustainable modes of commuting that cater to people’s everyday needs, preferably by walking, is a progressive notion for our planet. It propels us to make choices that are beneficial in this context.”
With four decades behind them, MHS knows their strengths. Urban mixed-use buildings with residential and retail components have become their calling card, and their work can be glimpsed in skylines across the state. “The projects we conceive become reality,” Higgins asserted. “Our high success rate with zoning and planning boards distinguishes us. Through repeated immersion in the business, we’ve honed our expertise. We understand the intricate details that determine a project’s success or failure. We have learned from our mistakes, and our experience in mixed use residential buildings and developments of all sizes is unparalleled. This is a quality our developer clients value. Truly, there’s no replacement for experience.”
Looking forward, the team at MHS has its sights set on expanding into markets beyond the borders of New York and New Jersey, including an upcoming project in Denver’s Golden Triangle Creative District. There are also plans in the works for developments in Waco, Texas, and South Florida. While the experienced architects are thrilled to expand into new territories, this growth will be primarily driven by the younger members of the team. Marchetto and Higgins noted the future success and legacy of MHS Architecture lies in providing opportunities for the next generation of architects.
“The dynamism that our talented team brings is what fuels us,” Higgins declared. “There’s a unique thrill in gathering around a conference table with a simple hand sketch, discussing various possibilities, organizing buildings and spaces on paper, and then witnessing them materialize. It’s incredibly invigorating to ignite the passion of the young architects in our firm. It’s profoundly satisfying when they grasp what we’ve learned over the years and begin to emulate our thought processes and design approach. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is witnessing young designers blossom and acquire the skills that we spent years mastering.”
The firm’s principals, however, are far from slowing down. There’s still ample work to do in Jersey City, Newark, and New Brunswick, they said. MHS Architecture, under the guidance of its innovative leaders, recognizes the critical importance of crafting the ideal architectural solution and adopting a customized approach for every project.