5 Minutes With The Rockaway Hotel Team

The Rockaway Hotel, Awards for Excellence in Hotel Development Finalist 

Morris Adjmi, FAIA, Founder and Principal, Morris Adjmi Architects 

Who has had the greatest influence on your career and what was the best advice he or she gave you?  

Without question, Pritzker prize-winning architect Aldo Rossi has had the most significant influence on my career. The year was 1980 and Teatro del Mondo was on the cover of every major design magazine. It was my introduction to Aldo, and I was fascinated by his typological approach, reductionist language, and use of historical connections devoid of style.  

Later that year, I became a student at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City, specifically to take an advanced design workshop with Aldo. I had the good fortune to not only study with him that year in New York but to work with him soon after on a competition project in Milan. The job was supposed to last a few weeks. Instead, a few weeks turned into a few years, and a few years turned into a professional partnership that lasted more than a decade.  

Working with Aldo was the most profound educational experience of my life. I learned to see in new ways, to design via fresh methods, and to trust my architectural instincts. But it was always a kind of passive education because so much of what Aldo did was personal. He taught by doing, and I learned by working alongside him on buildings that felt completely original but had a sense of history; buildings that aspired to timelessness and sometimes, somehow, seemed to achieve it.  

What I learned alongside Rossi during our 13-year collaboration greatly influenced the way my own office has approached each project since opening in 1997. Many of our buildings are rooted in an understanding of context and history, but our work is not historic. We developed our own understanding of context and our own methods of interpreting historic architecture, methods based less on analyzing the building types and architectural forms that define a street or neighborhood or city and more on the ideas that inspired the forms and the historical forces that made them possible.  

We recently designed an exhibition paying homage to Aldo’s interdisciplinary design achievements, which is now on display at the Museo del Novecento in Milan through October 2, 2022. It was a great honor and privilege. 

As a ULI NY Awards nominee, what makes you most proud of your project?  

We think it’s pretty cool to have created the first upscale lifestyle hotel in the Rockaways in over 100 years and are so proud that it has been embraced as a year-round destination for locals and visitors alike.  

We know locals were initially wary of a “hip” hotel changing the fabric of the neighborhood, given the location of the hotel, which is set back within the community, so it was extremely important to carefully consider the existing context. Essential to local character, we referenced Rockway’s humble and eclectic bungalows for the hotel’s massing and façade design. The mid-rise height of the six-story building was developed in a specific way to avoid overshadowing the surrounding historic clapboard houses and zinc paneling was selected to echo their color and form. We wanted to add texture to the local fabric without changing the conversation entirely and I think that approach has been well received—making a big statement is never the objective. We love that the hotel’s bars and restaurants are filled with neighborhood regulars. Many locals also attend the hotel’s popular music and art events, and some even take the exercise classes on offer.  

We’re also tremendously proud to have created a dynamic venue to be used for community engagement and applaud the hotel’s operations team for the unparalleled arts and education programming.

What about New York inspires you?  

Most of the projects my office completed in our first 25 years are in New York City, where we’ve had particular success working in historic districts and postindustrial neighborhoods. Some architects feel restricted by the protective regulations in these areas, but I’ve always found them inspiring. I’ve always said that if you gave me an empty site in the middle of a field, I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s a lot easier for me to respond to a context and New York has so much to draw from. The city is constantly changing but somehow always feels the same—mostly, anyway—and even its historic districts do not feel frozen in time. As architects, there is so much history to be inspired by, and we learn as much of it as possible, working with community members and listening to various civic committees to improve our designs. Today we have over 40 NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)-approved projects throughout the city, many of which are built or currently in construction. That’s a statistic we’re very proud of.