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Industry mourns passing of architect Stephen B. Jacobs

Architects Stephen B. Jacobs has died at the age of 82.

A Holocaust survivor who rose to become one of New York’s most accomplished architects, Mr Jacobs founded his own firm 1967 and later partnered with his interior designer wife, Andi Pepper, to work on projects inside and out.

“Stephen led an extraordinary life,” said Stephen B. Jacobs Group PC principal partners Alexander B. Jacobs, AIA, Isaac-Daniel Astrachan, AIA and Jennifer Cheuk, AIA, in a statement.

“From surviving the horrors of the Holocaust to building an award-winning architectural and interior design firm, Stephen led us to go above and beyond for our clients, personally guiding staff to ensure finished projects met clients’ needs.

“His pioneering approaches such as “sensitive renovation” became textbook examples of how to develop the highest economic potential of an existing building while preserving its architectural and historic significance.”

Born Stefan Jakubowicz in Lodz, Poland, on June 12, 1939, Mr Jacobs and his family moved to Piotrków — a city that became home to the Nazis’ first ghetto. The ghetto housed 25,000 people and was emptied in 1942. Jacobs and his parents, older brother, grandfather and three aunts were sent to concentration camps. The males went to Buchenwald, the females to Ravensbruck. He was only five years old at the time.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last year, he said he managed to survive Buchenwald  through luck and the help of an underground resistance that worked to save children. He spent his days at the shoemaker’s shop, which allowed him to get out of the daily roll call, where guards likely would have killed him because of his youth. Later he hid in the tuberculosis ward of the camp hospital, where his father was working as an orderly.

“I have fleeting memories,” Jacobs told JTA. “I have memories that are not chronological, particularly the last few weeks because that was a very traumatic and dangerous time because they were trying to liquidate the camp.”

After the war, the entire family was eventually reunited and fled to Switzerland before moving to the US in 1948 where they lived in Washington Heights. After high school, he pursued his passion for painting and drawing at The Art Students League of New York, studying with Frank Mason, an academic landscape and portrait painter.

“All he talked about was architecture and it stirred my interest,” Jacobs told “Deep down inside I knew I was a lousy painter.”

He enrolled at the Pratt Institute in 1963 and, after completing his Master’s in Architecture 1965, he worked as a designer and planner at Whittlesey, Conklin and Rossant before founding Stephen B. Jacobs & Associates in 1967.

Inspired by his own experiences buying and renovating a Brownstone, he started small, designing owner-occupied Brownstones, mostly on the West Side of Manhattan. By the mid-70s, he had turned his attention to finding new uses for old industrial and manufacturing properties and his early work became textbook examples of Adaptive Reuse, for which he was awarded the Andrew J. Thomas Pioneer in Housing award by the American Institute of Architects.

By the 80s, Jacobs was developing  his own properties using historic tax credits to raise equity to restore landmark buildings in Downtown Brooklyn then, in the mid-1990s, the company’s focus changed to hotels.

He was among the first to see the potential in Manhattan’s rooftops and the success of his Hotel Gansevoort transformation in the Meatpacking District changed the city’s hospitality industry forever. Stephen B. Jacobs designed some of New York City’s earliest boutiques, including Sixty Thompson, The Library Hotel, and Hotel Giraffe, as well as multiple Gansevoort Hotel locations.

Recognized as one of the city’s leading architectural firms, Stephen B. Jacobs has since completed a range of commissions, including high-rise condominiums, office buildings, and preservation projects.

“Stephen B. Jacobs Group is mourning the loss of Stephen and his absence will not only be felt at our firm but by the entire industry,” said the company’s partners in their statement.

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