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485 Marin & Jonathan Kushner of KRE Group 485 Marin & Jonathan Kushner of KRE Group
Developer KRE Group and architectural firm Hollwich Kushner are led by brothers Jonathan and Marc Kushner. Jonathan Kushner is the President of KRE Group, a New Jersey-based real estate development and management company with holdings throughout New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Marc Kushner is the co-founder of Hollwich Kushner, a leading Manhattan-based architecture firm that was named one of the 2017’s World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company.
Although Marc jokingly describes himself as “black sheep” of the family because he became an architect and not a developer, he and Jonathan have found a perfectly symbiotic way to work together. They each have a strong role in the process, respecting each other’s strengths and letting Marc’s partner Matthias Hollwich take care of the daily design “nuts and bolts.” The pair is about to open their third large-scale residential development together in Jersey City, at 485 Marin.
Jonathan and Marc love working together. Their mutual respect and admiration are clear. Jonathan greatly respects Marc’s talent and Marc is thrilled to work for, what he says most architects spend their lives hoping to find, a developer who understands, respects and encourages architectural design.
Aerial view of 485 Marin
The two firms have built three large-scale residential developments in three neighborhoods across Jersey City. The brothers’ first project together was 18 Park, a 422-unit luxury rental building that opened in Downtown Jersey City in 2014. Their most recent collaboration, 485 Marin, is located in Hamilton Park and is the neighborhood’s newest and largest rental development. Bridging the scales of the Newport Mall area and the brownstones of Hamilton Park, the 18-story building is literally sliced down the middle to create a visual corridor for residents of the area. The 397-unit building has seen very strong interest from prospective renters.
485 Marin follows in the footsteps of the first Journal Squared tower and is a part of a mixed-use development complex rising in Jersey City’s historic Journal Square neighborhood. Clad in aluminum panels, the first completed Journal Squared tower rises to 563 feet, making it Journal Square’s tallest building to date, and the third-tallest building in Jersey City. Leasing for the building’s 538 apartments, ranging from studios to three bedrooms, began in March 2017 and the building was fully leased in less than one year.
CityRealty spoke to both of the brothers about how they work together, how they create unique architecture that fits within the context of these neighborhoods and even what they talk about during Thanksgiving dinner.
View from 485 Marin

So, why Jersey City?

Jonathan: For decades our company, led by my father, was building in the suburbs. About 15 years ago, we decided we wanted to move into more urban markets. We were drawn to Jersey City’s transportation options to Manhattan. It was the driving reason we continue to build big buildings there. The transportation is phenomenal. In the last 20 years, Jersey City has become an amazing place to live. The quality of life and commuting options are really great.

How do you select the specific neighborhoods for your projects?

Jonathan: The business model in Jersey City is transit-oriented but we’re not a pioneer developer. Some people viewed Journal Squared as pioneering. We don’t view it as that. Before we began building, there was already a great neighborhood there. There was a well-established nightlife and people had lived there for a long time. It has great community parks, great street life and great retail. Those are principles we follow for each project.

There is a lot of competition of very big buildings being built in Jersey City and we want to be the best. It is difficult to separate yourself from the pack. A lot of people are copying each others’ amenities, finishes and interiors so we’ve focused really heavily on community management and programming in our buildings. And we have really stayed very focused on not straying from the PATH stations.
485 Marin rendering

Tell me about your programming and community management.

Jonathan: About 10 years ago, we decided that since we had these lavish amenity packages in each of our buildings, they can’t just be spaces left dormant and unprogrammed. You can build a beautiful club room and it just sits there. There is no one to set the music for certain times of day, or set the lighting and ambiance. So we built a team of people who rove from building to building making sure all of our amenities are running tip-top.
We also have coordinated events for each building. Some buildings have minimum events once a month. At some of our very interactive buildings, we have events once a week. It all depends on the mood of the building and the facilities we have. It can be as simple as a yoga class, to the extreme where we do holiday dinners on the eve of holidays. A lot of our residents are international and so on the evening before Thanksgiving, for example, they don’t know a lot about the holiday or have family here. In one of our buildings that has 422 apartments in Jersey City, we had 275 residents sign up and come to a full Thanksgiving dinner. We taught them about the holiday and gave them traditional food. Many had no idea what Thanksgiving was all about or why everything was coming to a halt in the city. So we explained what was going on.
Journal Squared
"The idea is that bands come through town and they can stay in this beautifully furnished apartment if they’re doing a show in the area and, in exchange, they play a show for our residents only."
In Journal Squared, we have a resident musician who lives in the building. It’s not the same musician, they change. The program started with the company that rents an apartment from us but they don’t pay rent. We give them a furnished apartment with the understanding the musician will give concerts for the building. The idea is that bands come through town and they can stay in this beautifully furnished apartment if they’re doing a show in the area and, in exchange, they play a show for our residents only. Some are well-known bands and some are up and coming. They put on acoustic shows so they don’t blast the house down. It’s one of the coolest programming things we’ve ever done. We will probably do it in another building in 2019 because our residents just love being able to go to these concerts. We guarantee our residents 12 concerts a year.
We don’t charge anything beyond an annual fee for amenities of $600 a year per apartment, which includes all our amenities like the use of a gym, a 24-hour doorman, etc. At 485 Marin, we increased our amenity package. We did a children’s playroom, an adults-only business center, a quiet cell phone free library, a theater room, and a catering kitchen you can rent for parties. There are also four different WiFi lounges you can rent out privately as well. And there’s an outdoor pool with a deck and a brand new 55,000-square-foot park. It is probably the biggest park to be built in Jersey City. This building is getting more outdoor amenities than anything we’ve ever done with our company.

What is it like to work with family?

Jonathan: My dad founded our company in 1979. I joined him in 1998. We have been working with my brother Marc, who has his own architecture firm in lower Manhattan, for over 10 years. This is the third large building we’ve had them design and they have been great to work with.

Working with family is pure joy. When things go well, why not share the success with people you love? When things don't go well, who better to lean on than family? For me, it’s truly pure joy to work with my two brothers, my father, and brother-in-law. I am the President of the company. My other brother has been working in technology in Palo Alto for the last twenty years and just moved back to work with us. We are folding in what he’s been doing in California with our company. We all have different pieces of the business and different capabilities and try to utilize what everyone is good at. This way we can do more with different parts. My brother-in-law, Jeremy, is COO of our real estate business. Jeremy has been a friend of mine since we were eight years old at Camp Ramah.
Marc Kushner, co-founder of Hollwich Kushner

Is that how he and your sister got together?

Jonathan: I think he had a crush on her on his own. All I know is he and I were slamming each other playing hockey.

Can you compare and contrast the buildings you’ve worked on with Marc?

Jonathan: 485 Marin is the most natural. It just fits in really well with where it is. Journal Squared is more striking because it is taller than everything around it. This one is like the final piece of the puzzle, and when you’ve finished the puzzle and realize, ah, that’s going there. It’s definitely a unique color of brick and has an outdoor park that makes it really fit in naturally with the community that it’s in.

There are so many buildings with glass. Although I love glass, this didn’t feel like it should be glass. It was clear it should be a beautiful red brick and forest green.
485 Marin's outdoor park (Hollwich Kushner)
Journal Squared's talltest tower is 70 stories high (Hollwich Kushner (HWKN) & Handel Architects)

How do KRE Group and Hollwich Kushner work together? Can you describe the process?

Jonathan: We very much have a client-customer relationship because we have to. We are in the business of building buildings that create space for people to live in. We also need to make money. He is an architect who is very specific and design-oriented. He doesn’t really like to settle for development-friendly choices. Our work is always collaborative and never uncomfortable. We both look critically at the project in different ways but I can’t just say yes to everything. [Laughs]
Marc: It’s amazing to work with family and Matthias [Hollwich], my business partner, and I figured out pretty early in our collaboration with my family that you need to know when you need other people in the equation. Matthias runs the design nuts and bolts, from beginning to end, and I do larger picture design work with my brother and the company.

It’s all a dream come true. Jon and I grew up together, played in basement building blocks together and now we get to collaborate with our expertise and shape this amazing community. The part that is really satisfying for me is that the caliber of design in Jersey City is on the upswing. We are so excited. The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) mixed-use development in Jersey City's is being designed by Rem Koolhaas right next to Journal Squared. Koolhaus was Matthias’ mentor. He worked there for five years and is called a “baby Rem.” Jersey city has become a design destination for architects.

What I hope is the architects take what is already an amazing place and makes sure it remains a unique place. When a place grows as fast as Jersey City is growing, some fear that the architecture will be lowest common denominator stuff. People worry it will be super bland, thrown up quickly and the developers will move on to their next project. What I hope is our buildings are a unique response to the immediate neighborhood they’re situated in and create an amenity for new residents and people who preceded the building boom.

How did the inspiration for each Jersey City building differ for you?

Marc: Journal Squared is a very tall building in a community of six to eight-story buildings. We wanted to create some kind of transition considering the size of buildings there. Journal Squared is a series of squares that start to pile up and aggregate into this tall tower. It was an amazing challenge to design a 70-plus story building on a site that hasn’t ever seen that scale of a building. We worked with Port Authority on a beautiful plaza that would be a new front door to Path Station.
We had to consider two different scales, the local scale and the “turnpike scale” which can be seen from everywhere. For architecture, there are so many audiences. You have the people who live in the building, to the tens of thousands who have lived in the area for decades, to the hundreds of thousands of people driving into New York and flying into Newark. We wanted to speak to those multiple scales and did so by the stacking of boxes to speak to the local fabric. We also created these cuts that run up the sides of the building to correspond all the down to the front door.
"Sometimes in architecture, the right thing to do turns out to be formally exciting."
Jon is always involved from soup to nuts. There are some developers architects love to work for and some that are tough. Some are always trying to chop down their vision or the quality of the work. Jon is constantly fighting for the highest quality (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother, we used to wrestle, after all). [Laughs] He has totally bought into the value of architecture as an asset for the company and the community.
485 Marin is a really cool building. It’s got two sides to it. On the one hand, it faces busy Marin street. The front door entrance into Jersey City coming on and off Holland Tunnel. On the other side, it faces a tight-knit community and gorgeous park that we contributed to. Our goal was to bridge those two and you see that in choices of material we used like the brick (versus the aluminum panels we used at Journal Squared) because brick is a natural local material in that area.
We tried to visually cut the building in half to make the building seem more contextual. So we made a slice through the building. Sometimes in architecture, the right thing to do turns out to be formally exciting. The slice through building allowed views for the building behind our development, it created a view corridor and it allowed us to sculpt a canyon, or chasm, slice through our building which became an iconic, recognizable feature of the building. So we can all feel good about doing the right thing. It was a win win win.
485 Marin's
" It’s an unbelievable thing to have my brother believing in the power of architecture. Architects search their entire careers to find their client that buys into what architecture can do."
Some of the other major features of the building are the canopies, or awnings, that are very simple but they flop up at the entrance, almost like a cowlick in someone’s hair. I’m really excited by the way it turned out. It’s such a fun way to say “enter here” versus a big sign or arrow. And it becomes part of the fabric of the city.
Standing out is the residue of sensitive architecture. As the architect, you can pursue standing out on its own but it’s about listening to what’s contextual, responding to local residents, nodding to them by making them comfortable but also generate excitement. It’s that confluence. With each building we do with KRE, we want to make their buildings social places. Places where people want to be, where they meet their neighbors and hang out. Architecture can make residential buildings happy and exciting place to live and we try to engender that sort of familiarity.
We take our cues from KRE to create community. Our job is to work with the city, to be super-invested to do the right thing and tailor all this growth. We come up with a unique proposition for each site and not just plunk down buildings.
It’s an unbelievable thing to have my brother believing in the power of architecture. Architects search their entire careers to find their client that buys into what architecture can do. Over the past decade, he has become convinced that great architecture doesn’t have to be an addition, you don’t have to spend a ton more to make an amazing building. All you need to do is think and really spend the time understanding who is going to use it and how to make their lives special. Jon is just as excited as we are.

Are you allowed to talk about development at Thanksgiving?

Marc: We talk about work all the time. We grew up living and breathing it. Look, I’m the black sheep that become the architect but it’s not like I became a doctor [Laughs]. So yes, of course we do.
Contributing Writer Michelle Sinclair Colman Michelle writes children's books and also writes articles about architecture, design and real estate. Those two passions came together in Michelle's first children's book, "Urban Babies Wear Black." Michelle has a Master's degree in Sociology from the University of Minnesota and a Master's degree in the Cities Program from the London School of Economics.