Game Changer: Jonathan F.P. Rose

A developer who combines a keen feel for the housing market with a genuine commitment to social justice, good urbanism, and green building.

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This development is the first in the United States and the second in the world to achieve a LEED- ND Platinum rating. It has 120 affordable and market-rate apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercial and community space.

Courtesy Jeffrey Totaro

What constitutes quality, by Rose’s measure, can be gauged by looking at what has been, perhaps, his company’s most lauded project yet—the Via Verde apartments in the South Bronx (done in collaboration with Phipps). The building is an all-in-one index of the values Rose is trying to introduce to the marketplace: its 151 rental and 71 co-op units are available to tenants from a fairly broad swath of the economic spectrum, from low to middle income; the complex includes wellness facilities, bicycle storage areas, and is situated close to public transit; it’s replete with ecofriendly features, including a comprehensive rainwater collection system; and it’s topped by a series of interconnected green roofs, complete with a garden club that grows produce for residents. “It makes palpable this idea of integration,” says Rose, bringing together “the well-being of people, of the city, and nature. And it’s architecturally distinctive.”

The question of Rose’s architectural values is an interesting one, because his inveterate pragmatism means he’s not hung up on creating splashy starchitectural statements. “His thinking is much more related to the fabric and texture of communities, rather than to the look of the individual buildings,” says William Stein, a principal at Dattner Architects, one of the firms behind Via Verde and a number of other Rose developments. “What might be right for one place wouldn’t be right for another.” On 153rd Street in Harlem, another Dattner/Rose project, The David and Joyce Dinkins Gardens, highlights some of the same social and environmental features as Via Verde, but does it in a simple, contextual building nothing like Via Verde’s striking stepped outline. Likewise, many of his recent projects—like 2010’s Silver Gardens in Albuquerque, New Mexico—are remarkably modest in appearance. On this point, at least, Rose appears to have the eye for cost-saving and efficiency one might expect of a commercial developer. 

“He’s trying to change the whole system.”

Surely there can’t be many in the field who share Rose’s sense of futurism, his ability to look down the road and see where American cities are headed and what ought to be done to get them there. Thirty years ago he was trying to sell Brooklyn on a multi-use, high-density redevelopment program; today, he’s talking about things like “collaborative consumption”—buildings and communities with shared property like cooking utensils and hardware—and “cognitive resilience”—creating neighborhoods with durable social networks that can withstand traumatic disruptions like Hurricane Sandy. He’s already starting to build these ideas into some of his upcoming projects, and, intriguingly, one of them will bring him right back to where it all began: one of the last undeveloped lots near the Brooklyn Academy of Music lots, was retained by the city, and recently awarded to Rose's firm via an HPD competitive bid process.

This cultural center in Brooklyn will include a science and technology component, 109 rental apartments, and a ground-floor restaurant. The design team includes Dattner Architects, Bernheimer Architecture, Life Edited, and Scape/Landscape Architecture.

Courtesy Dattner/Bernheimers

EyeBAM, as the project is called, will be a cultural center with a difference, one that “mashes up cutting-edge art and technology” with science exhibits, a restaurant, and more. “Green roofs, collaborative consumption—it’s got the environmental, social, cultural, and transit aspects, all together in one great building,” Rose says. His enthusiasm for his latest endeavor seems a perfect blend of true-believer-ism and pitchman pizzazz. But he doesn’t oversell it. Moments later he’s on his feet, shaking hands, and off to his next meeting.

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