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Negative Space Becomes a Positive Place
Hoboken Apartment Courtyard Reshaped into Welcoming Plaza

Landscape Architecture by Melillo + Bauer Associates



The Rivington apartment complex sits in the heart of Hoboken, which is often seen as one of the most modern, bustling downtown areas in northern New Jersey. However, the decrepit courtyard at the Rivington Apartments did not hold up to the standard set by the surrounding area. Melillo + Bauer Associates completely reinvented the space, creating a welcoming area for residents to relax and have fun.

The Rivington is a recently reinvented multi-building apartment complex located in Hoboken, N.J. Originally constructed in the 1980's as an industrial building, the contaminated brownfield site on which it originally sat was hidden by a concrete cap that also served as the resident's courtyard. Completely devoid of vegetation and furnishings, with the exception of two unused teak benches and two light poles, the half-acre urban plaza sat for over two decades as an unsightly blemish on the landscape, resembling a prison yard rather than an apartment courtyard.

Fortunately, a new owner acquired the complex in 2015 and arrived with the foresight to hire a landscape architect with the creative ability to change a negative into a positive. Due to a partnership with the owner on a previous project, Melillo + Bauer Associates was trusted to make the transformation.


Through the use of sitting walls, ramps and steps, severe grade change in the courtyard was creatively addressed to provide for level, functional and well-appointed outdoor rooms without inconveniencing residents with different abilities.

Handcuffed with the constraint of an original concrete slab that had to remain in place, the designers at Melillo + Bauer Associates decided to develop the space as if it were a rooftop lounge rather than a ground-level plaza. With only minimal penetrations allowed for utilities on the site, all of the hardscape features are "floating" above the concrete. Existing drainage structures remained in place, and all construction took place above the surface.

Several feet of grade change existed across the courtyard with slopes in excess that could have potentially made the redesign difficult to navigate. The solution to remedying this problem was the establishment of various terrace levels with steps and ramps transitioning the grade. Finished plaza surfaces consist of resurfaced concrete cap, concrete pedestal pavers, ipe wood pedestal pavers and synthetic turf.


The details of the communal dining area make a nod to Hoboken's industrial past with the use of corrugated metal panels, concrete countertops and Edison bulb string lights.

A series of outdoor rooms were created in a geometric fashion so that they are not only functional and usable but also visually striking when seen from the residences above. The courtyard is private, intended solely for the residents of the Rivington. Controlled access is established via ipe-clad walls and decorative metal gates at streetscape entries. Lush vegetation has been introduced to the courtyard and has completely transformed its aesthetic. Sitting walls, curbs and building foundation walls serve as planters for imported soil, which supports the wide range of garden plantings. Deciduous trees, evergreen shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses and groundcovers provide the visual interest and definition for the outdoor rooms.


A selection of finishes were provided for the courtyard floor, here including a pedestal-supported ipe tile, which frames a specimen weeping willow, raised above the dining and dance floor.

The Place to Be
Each of the three apartment buildings on the property now offers an outdoor lobby-lounge equipped with comfortable site furnishings, fireplaces and lighting. Intimate seating nooks placed throughout the courtyard are great spots for an early morning read or an evening conversation. Other features in the plaza include an outdoor kitchen with communal dining, bar seating, and BBQ grilling stations, all styled in an industrial theme with hardscape aspects such as metal panels and concrete countertops. Corn hole and bocce are popular games featured in the courtyard, and families can often be found enjoying the camaraderie of a friendly competition. On warm summer nights, an outdoor movie wall provides evening entertainment. An expansive weeping willow is a favorite of the residents, as are the large maple and oak trees that have dramatically improved the ambiance of the courtyard.

The Rivington complex is a prime example of how a dull space can be transformed with the right details. An amenity that was originally avoided by residents has now become a popular, comfortable area that inspires community and activity.

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October 17, 2019, 9:37 pm PDT

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