Located in Princeton, New Jersey, JZA+D was founded in 2006 by managing partner Joshua Zinder as a multidisciplinary team of architects and designers who share contemporary design aesthetics and aspirations and a commitment to sustainability in every aspect of project work and practice. The collective educational and professional experience of our staff spans architecture, interiors, product and furniture design, graphic design, and master planning. Both internally and in our client work, the firm partners encourage and inspire team members to be collaborators, good listeners, and creative problem-solvers.
JZA+D has won numerous design awards, and its work has been seen in publications around the world. The staff actively participates in trade and professional organizations such as AIA, NCARB, USGBC, IOREBA, SCUP and ACSA. In addition, over half of our architectural staff is LEED accredited. The JZA+D culture is highly focused on mentorship and skills development, making it a great place to work and grow at every level.
As a multidisciplinary firm we seek to practice in as wide a range of sectors as possible, including workplace, multifamily residential, higher education, hospitality, retail, and religious structures. Our work is not hyper-specialized in any particular typology or area of practice, intentionally. One of our core principles is to embrace cross-pollination of ideas among disciplines and sectors, which we believe leads to greater creativity, a wider pool of solutions to draw from and, ultimately, better project outcomes for our clients. Our design approach is consistent with JZA+D’s mission, which is to educate our clients and enhance our own skills through explorations of site and context, form and space, and social awareness and sustainability.
Some key projects we are currently working on (Figure 1) include a major expansion and renovation of a historic residential structure for use by Homeworks Trenton, a nonprofit providing room and board for disadvantaged young women to enable them to take full advantage of their high school academic opportunities and develop new paths for the future. We’re also excited to begin adapting a black-box theater space at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ) to accommodate a new virtual reality lab with equipment by Dreamscape Learn, while also improving other areas of the building and enhancing accessibility.
JZA+D is also about to embark on an expansion of our own Princeton headquarters, to accommodate anticipated growth and our evolving process.
The Illuminated Origami shown above is the design for a sukkah, which is a traditional Jewish hut that is a big part of celebrating the Sukkot festival holiday. The sukkah was designed specifically for Sukkah Village 2021, a multi-day design event in Princeton organized by JZA+D along with a number of religious and secular non-profits in and around Princeton and Central New Jersey.
JZA+D has employed AEC technology since its founding, but those suites and tools have evolved and grown in sophistication since 2006. AutoCAD originally was used for drawing and modeling, and 3DS Max and Photoshop were the primary rendering and visualization software. AutoCAD is still in the mix these days, but we’ve primarily relied on BIM (Revit) for project design and documentation for at least the last decade (Figure 2).
We use both SketchUp and Rhino w/Grasshopper for 3D modeling, depending on the application, and Enscape is our go-to for real-time rendering, which has dramatically sped up the feedback process for 3D modeling and visualization. Examples of these are shown in Figures 3 and 4.
Physical final models for client presentations are often 3D printed rather than hand built, and iPads have replaced drawing sets in the field. Punch lists have become more efficient to produce and track through the use of software like Bluebeam and PlanGrid (now Autodesk Build), as shown in Figure 5.
JZA+D employs a model generating service called Hover 3D during the field surveys, which delivers accurate exterior 3D models of existing conditions from just a few photos, as shown in Figure 6.
We are also using the Multivista 3D laser scanning service for the first time for the Homeworks Trenton project (Figure 7). The technology creates a virtual model which we can explore while back in the office, and it allows us to take measurements.
We have an open-minded approach and will always consider implementing new technology into our design and construction methodology. That’s not to say that we use every software or tool available to us, but we regularly seek out the ones that can be most productive and valuable, with a relatively low-impact spot for us on the adoption curve. Standing still is falling behind, as they say, so we put a lot of effort into staying abreast of new developments.
At the same time, we try to be simultaneously curious and critical about the technology at our disposal. Not every tool is useful or practical to every firm, and as a smaller firm with limited resources we have to be discriminating. Our desire is to continue to on-board any new technology that will allow us to perform better and faster in realizing our clients’ visions for their projects, as well as our own vision for JZA+D’s journey.
The primary challenge: balancing time, knowledge, and resources. A necessary component of our continuing education as professionals is keeping up to date with the evolution of AEC technology, tools, and software. It can be a time-consuming process, with a steep learning curve, and difficult to implement simultaneously with project design and production, especially for a small firm.
The other challenge is universal, which is reliance on old habits. Even the best, most creative designers can be apprehensive about transitioning their process to a new platform or app. But the long-term benefits of our transition to BIM from old-fashioned analog drafting are unarguably persuasive (Figure 8). That new technology allowed us to see design and process in new ways, boosting our productivity while freeing us to dream bigger and better for our clients.
The role of AI in the industry will continue to expand. At JZA+D we’ve been testing the capabilities of AI for visualization and design generation using programs such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion (Figure 9), and for site analytics with programs such as Autodesk Forma. The speed of the results and the ability to iterate and adapt quickly is impressive. AI is integral to so much of the technology we already use, but the advancement of AI tools in AEC technology will be the next major storyline for our industry.
The dream is full interoperability and compatibility of technology across competing platforms, so that we as architects can work seamlessly and efficiently, both internally and with the wide range of project partners with whom we collaborate: planners, developers, engineers, sustainability consultants, contractors, subtrades, and lay persons (clients).
Many thanks to Adam Sullivan of C.C. Sullivan for facilitating this profile.
Benjamin Grace, AIA, is a Registered Architect and senior associate with integrated design firm JZA+D, who brings considerable design intelligence and over 15 years of experience to his management and oversight of a range of projects including community, hospitality, retail, workplace, and higher education. Ben earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Providence College and a Master of Architecture degree at Syracuse University, where he was awarded the AIA Henry Adams Medal for academic achievement as well as a Design Studio Teaching Assistant fellowship.
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