Peter A. Gisolfi: designed to fit

Peter A. Gisolfi says he’s in the fit-in school, not the stick-out school. Fans of his projects would beg to differ.

The founding partner of the Hastings-on-Hudson firm Peter Gisolfi Associates, Architects and Landscape Architects LLP,  he has made a living out of constructing buildings, parks and school additions that are designed to underscore the identities of communities. He calls it “shaping places,” which typically involves enhancing groups of buildings connected by open space, reinforcing their community’s cultural and historical significance.

“When you’re shaping places, you’re influencing a place that’s already there but not coming in with a sculptural object and saying, ‘Look at me, I’m great,’” Gisolfi says. “It may be more important to be a part of the community that you’re working in. To say ‘We didn’t create it, but we improved on it — it distinguishes us.’”

Take the “Four Corners” in Bronxville — the meeting point of Village Hall, the Reformed Church of Bronxville, the Bronxville Public Library and the Bronxville Public School, Gisolfi’s team improved upon the Pondfield Road site through a series of $2 million to $5 million projects that doubled the size of the library and expanded the school and village hall, leaving the church untouched.

At the Peekskill Community Center, a new gym, auditorium and sports facility developed by Gisolfi have turned into a seven-day-a-week gathering place for the city’s active folk.

“There is plenty of chance to build buildings that relate to a real physical and cultural context, not just on their lonesome,” he says. “The village centers are at each railroad station. Darien, Greenwich, Bronxville, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Tarrytown — any of these places, you can immediately imagine the center of town.”

In 2003, he designed the Dobbs Ferry Public Library’s new location on Main Street, which he said is “knitted” into the fabric of the village because of its unique position at the bend of that thoroughfare.

In a tightly packed borough like Manhattan where zoning is strict, the flexibility to be creative in design is not quite what it is in Westchester. One of the firm’s larger projects, a $60 million renovation of the Trevor Day School’s upper school on the Upper East Side, was completed earlier this year. But even in a metropolis like New York City, where designing and completing a project is much different than in the suburbs, the appreciation for blending in remains the same. Rockefeller Center, he said, fits in rather than sticks out, he said.

It’s a message he preaches to his students at The City College of New York, where he teaches architecture and landscape architecture. He also taught architecture at Columbia University for 12 years after earning degrees from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania.

“The Parthenon — a temple where the goddess Athena is protecting Athens — that’s a major stick-out piece,” he says. “What I think happened in modern architecture is people think they’re designing the Parthenon.”

The size of the firm’s projects can range anywhere from $5 million to $60 million, though Gisolfi said most now fall on the lower end of that range since the recession, minus the roughly $26 million implementation of new athletic fields at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry several years ago.

What started as a small office with two other employees in downtown Hastings-on-Hudson in 1979 has grown to a 30-plus employee firm that owns two buildings on Warburton Avenue and expanded to a second office in New Haven. The company grew to as large as 50 employees, but Gisolfi said it is at the right size for today’s market.

Over his nearly four decades in the field, Gisolfi has worked in dozens of communities throughout Westchester and Fairfield counties,  completing educational, arts, library, office, retail, housing, community and recreation projects.

The size and scope of the projects may be scaled back, but he said his favorite parts of the process remain the same — when projects are in the home stretch of construction and the interaction he has with clients.

Just don’t ask him what project he’s most proud of.

“I have so many projects, so I’d hate to have to pick any one favorite,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t want to offend any clients.”

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