Metropolis Helps Bring Innovative Architecture to the Great Outdoors

By Robert Proffitt, R.A.

A partnership with Kean University and Grimshaw has brought Metropolis Group out of the concrete jungle and into the bucolic woods of northern New Jersey. While many Metropolis projects involve challenges due to the population density in an urban environment, this engagement requires deft balance to create an infrastructure that supports an academic campus, while minimizing the impact on parkland. Metropolis jumped at the chance to get involved with permit expediting in NJ and on an academic expediting project, no less.

Cutting-Edge Campus

Kean University has leased part of the Mount Paul area of Kittatinny Valley State Park to build the Michael Graves School of Environmental Studies, named after the iconic postmodern architect. Funded by a gift from Michael Graves, the educational facility will host environmental studies and architectural classes. The new complex will include the former Paulist Fathers monastery, a landmarked structure that will provide student and faculty lodging; a cabin, which will house classrooms; and an open walkway in the tree canopy, which will connect the two buildings and feature amphitheater seating for outdoor events.

A Delicate Balance

Grimshaw partnered with Metropolis in the pre-design process to ensure that the proposed structures comply with code requirements. Multiple, daily phone conversations have guided the evolution of Grimshaw’s designs.

  • Infrastructure. One challenge confronting the design team is the need for basic infrastructure. Currently, a two-lane, dirt road provides the only access to the site. The project includes placement of a new, paved road; plumbing and fire hydrants; and a sewage pumping station to accommodate the campus population.
  • Accessibility. Built in the 1950s, the former monastery required upgrades to meet handicapped accessibility requirements. Grimshaw and Metropolis created safe areas to address egress issues.
  • Safety. When the Division of Codes and Standards for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) called for fire suppression, Metropolis recommended a dry-pipe sprinkler and collaborated with Grimshaw on the system design. In addition, the walkway was redesigned to include an elevator that can support two people and a stretcher, providing easy access and speedy evacuation in an emergency.
  • Impact. Minimizing the project’s impact on the land has also required design adjustments, such as relocating a walkway section to preserve a rock outcropping. In fact, impact studies influence many of the project’s design decisions, including placement of generators and the pumping station.

Planning Makes Perfect

Once again, close collaboration during the early planning stages has paid off in keeping a complex project on track, while complying with code requirements. While the DCA’s online system, ePlan Review, has facilitated the filing process, this project continues to highlight the value of interpersonal relationships. We appreciate the ongoing support and assistance of Sue Soffel and John Mosser at the New Jersey DCA.