ULI New York Blog

‘Five Minutes With’ feat. Jed Walentas, Two Trees & Christopher Sharples, SHoP

This week’s ‘Five Minutes With’ is a double feature with Jed Walentas, Chief Executive Officer of Two Trees Management and Christopher Sharples, Principal at SHoP Architects, whose project – 325 Kent Avenue – is a 2019 Awards Finalist for Excellence in Market-Rate Housing.

Jed Walentas, Chief Executive Officer, Two Trees Management

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

My father David Walentas is my biggest influence.

What qualities do you think are essential to be an effective leader?

Effective leaders should have the ability to attract a talented team and keep them focused and motivated. In addition, a good leader should have a strong vision that pushes your team beyond what they believe they’re capable of, while staying focused on your organization’s strengths and avoiding distractions. And in real estate especially, you need a borderline unhealthy dose of optimism.

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

It is hard to separate 325 Kent Avenue from our entire Domino planning process, which I thought was excellent. We bought the Domino site in 2012 and closed a couple of weeks after Hurricane Sandy. It came with an existing approved plan for dense residential development and a fairly mediocre waterfront esplanade. We could have gone out on day one, pulled a building permit and started construction. Instead we elected to go back to the drawing board and rethink the entire thing. It is something Two Trees has spent a decade of our lives doing, and is something we are extremely proud of. Working with a great team of architects and planners we reimagined the whole master plan, flipped the landmarked refinery from condo to commercial office, eliminated an entire development site and made each building slightly taller – greatly expanding the amount of open space in what would become Domino Park. 325 Kent is our first building at the site, and from an architectural perspective, I believe it’s the best in Williamsburg so far, and it won near unanimous approval at the Community Board. Elegantly stepping down to the Brooklyn skyline on the east, the building overlooks and spills out on to Domino Park and the zinc and copper façade is by far the most ambitious materiality we’ve seen used in the borough. This project proves you can focus on developing quality buildings while simultaneously creating significant affordable housing.


Christopher Sharples, Principal, SHoP Architects

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

That would be my uncle, John Abbot, trained as an architect at the GSD under Walter Gropius and then drafted as an industrial designer for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WWII. He then went on to become a successful industrial and interior designer in New York. My twin brother, Bill, and I have dyslexia, so learning did not come easily to us when we were younger and we did not believe we had the ability to make it as architects. Uncle John knew we had talent and pushed us to pursue the profession. He also urged us not to specialize but to become general practitioners, make the practice what we wanted it to be and embrace the humanities. With his guidance, coupled with our interest in technology (born out of our fascination with aerospace), we have been able to grow SHoP along with our partners and staff into the innovative company it is today.

What qualities do you think are essential to be an effective leader? 

I’m not sure if this is a quality but more a state of mind: the staff comes first; they are everything. Architecture is not a one-person show. You can have all the talent in the world, but you and the team will never reach your full potential without first creating a great work environment. Leaders must be both supportive and aspirational, inspiring the team to go beyond their comfort zone, to push ideas even to the point of failure. Without testing the boundaries of your thinking you will never be able to innovate.

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

The community’s enthusiasm around this project gives us a tremendous sense of pride. We used specially selected copper and zinc façade materials, and the once shiny orange of the copper has already begun to patina, recalling the Statue of Liberty and drawing in visitors and engaging the public. We created a  large opening that allows light and air from the waterfront to flow through into the neighborhood. In an effort to weave the building into the surrounding community, the building steps back from its peak and tapers gradually into the neighborhood’s existing fabric. All of these efforts have resulted in a building that is not only iconic on the Williamsburg waterfront, but that re-imagines what mixed-use, mixed-income housing can look like in New York.

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