Architect’s distinctive style increasingly visible in Schenectady

Re4orm Architecture has had key role in several of city's biggest projects
Frog Alley Brewing Co. owner JT Pollard stands above tanks in the new brewary on lower State Street, February 13, 2019.
Frog Alley Brewing Co. owner JT Pollard stands above tanks in the new brewary on lower State Street, February 13, 2019.

Categories: Business, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Architect-turned-developer J.T. Pollard helped create a new neighborhood at one gateway to Schenectady, is building a major project of his own at a second entrance and planning his next move at a third.

Sprinkled in between are several of the city’s newer and more striking buildings.

The design work he and his firm Re4orm Architecture have done incorporates an often-varying collection of angles and surface materials, the polar opposite of the smooth glass-and-steel designs that are so common in so many construction projects.

Think of Mohawk Harbor, Bowtie Cinema, Transfinder, the redesigned Center City, and Re4orm’s own Clinton Street headquarters, and you’ll start to recognize the aesthetic.

Bowtie Cinema is one example of Re4orm Architecture’s high profile projects in Schenectady.

“They’ve got our twist on it,” Pollard said of the stylistic details. “I think our architecture stands out in those projects.”

There are also projects with fewer stylistic details for clients with smaller budgets, and projects for clients who have big budgets but need to work from the template of a corporate parent. Neither of these may reflect the Re4orm flair as clearly. 

But over the course of more than a decade, Re4orm has left an imprint on Schenectady. And later in 2019, as the Mill Lane Artisan District draws closer to completion at the foot of State Street, a major new piece of Re4orm style will greet drivers arriving in the city.

Burnt Hills native

James Taylor Pollard, 48, lives on the west shore of Ballston Lake, five doors down from the house he grew up in.

(He’s not named after the famous singer, and doesn’t go by J.T. to avoid the suggestion. He’s named after his grandfather James Taylor Pollard, who also went by J.T.)

Pollard and his wife, Michelle, have four daughters ages 17 to 21. As the nest begins to empty, they’ve thought about moving to Schenectady, where Michelle also has a business. But the connection to community is just too strong where they live now. It’s also nice to have the lake in the backyard, if only for the family’s two Labrador retrievers to swim in.

Pollard’s teenage interest in architecture stemmed from his first jobs.

“I was always working on framing crews and with plumbers and electricians,” he recalled. When it came time to focus on a career, he combined creativity with construction. “I was just interested in the building industry, I guess, and I was always artistic.”

The early desire to specialized in house design would eventually morph into designing commercial structures, but the focus on architecture didn’t waver.

Pollard earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Kentucky and headed west to Telluride, Colorado, where he skied and ran a construction crew while looking for his first architecture job.

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Pollard isn’t an engineer or a contractor, but the stints in construction shaped his future approach to his work.

“We’ve always been pretty hands-on on the construction,” he said.

He came back to his old neighborhood for good when he took a job with what is now Re4orm and was then J.D. Smith Associates in Burnt Hills. 

Pollard bought out James Smith in 2005 and moved the firm to Schenectady in 2007.

The name change? It’s complicated. Pollard didn’t want to give it his own name, and he didn’t want to have to amend it later if he took on a partner. He had the sense that architects had moved away from their roots as being the master of the building process, and he intended to reform that with his own firm, at least. 

The numeral 4 was a clever reference to his daughters.

Schenectady focus

While Ballston Lake remains home, Schenectady has been the site of many of Pollard’s projects.

“We’re pretty committed to Schenectady and that’s been a big part of our life,” he said.

Pollard’s investments are here as well: He owns the building that houses Re4orm’s headquarters; most of the Mill Lane Artisan District; and the building that houses 151 Bar And Restaurant, a former Lafayette Street tire garage redesigned in typical Re4orm style.

Michelle Pollard’s business, Studio 4 Hot Yoga & Pilates, is upstairs from 151.

Pollard’s next venture will be right across the street from Re4orm’s headquarters, where he owns the entire triangular block bounded by Broadway and Hamilton and Clinton streets.

The working project title is The Wedge.

“You’re always looking forward to your next move,” he said.

The River House Waterfront Apartments, 221 Harborside Dr.
The River House Waterfront Apartments is an example of Re4orm Architecture’s high profile work in Schenectady.

He won’t be concentrating on it for a while, though. His attention is now split 50-50, seven days a week between assorted design projects for clients and his own development of Frog Alley Brewing and the rest of the Mill Lane project. 

The anticipated cost of Mill Lane shot from $16 million to $30 million after a string of old buildings on State Street was determined to be unsalvageable. Demolition and new construction was required instead of renovation.

The Wedge will likely be a mixed-use project of some sort, Pollard said. It also will be the latest in a series of new buildings seen by motorists coming off Interstate 890 onto Broadway, a main approach to downtown. 

Pollard takes pride in Re4orm’s buildings also being at the west entrance to the city (Mill Lane) and north entrance (key parts of Mohawk Harbor).

Modern style

Not all Re4orm projects are visually exciting and show as much design flair. 

“We do a lot of other stuff that you wouldn’t notice it was us,” Pollard said. “Not every project here is like doing Mill Artisan District or Center City or Mohawk Harbor. Those are really special projects and you don’t get to do those all the time.”

There was, Pollard said, a time where bland buildings were commonplace.

“There was just a period of bad architecture from the ’70s to the ’90s,” he said. It was a result of limited funds more than limited vision, he added: “Everybody’s got a budget … people started eliminating the architectural elements.”

What’s changed, Pollard explains, is not only the willingness to spend on architectural style but the availability of materials that will support it: With assorted new synthetics and the ability to shape structural and ornamental steel with lasers or water jets, new design options open up. They not only look great, they last.

“Jim Smith used to say they’ll remember the quality long after they forget the cost,” Pollard recalled of his one-time mentor and still neighbor. 

For this reason, Re4orm avoids wood-frame construction. “That’s one of the things architecturally we strive for, to really make something that’s significant and long-lasting – not just something that’s architecturally correct but something that has enough significance to last and is constructed in a proper way to last.

“With the materials that are available today it really opens up a lot of doors for architects if you have the budget to push the materials to the next level.”

Re4orm took a more subtle touch on one prominent project: the Foster Building on State Street. As it was brought back from advanced decay, the circa-1907 beaux arts landmark needed to stay old-looking but gain the functionality and stability to keep it standing for another century. Up the block, Re4orm also worked on the facade of the old Schenectady trolley station, where Slidin’ Dirty now occupies the first floor.

“That has a lot of our similar details, even though that was a re-creation. But it definitely has our twist on it, just the way it was put together and detailed.”


Asked what his favorite project has been, Pollard doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“I love Mohawk Harbor and how that turned out,” he said. “That was a really fun project to be a part of, just seeing all the process through.” 

Re4orm created the master plan, from cleaning up the industrial contamination to digging out the harbor and amphitheater to planning what is essentially a new neighborhood. “We were involved in everything,” he said. 

Re4orm also contributed designs for Mohawk Harbor’s two office buildings, apartment house and row of waterfront townhouses. 

Ask Pollard again in a few years, after Mill Lane is complete, and perhaps he’ll have a different answer.

But for now, he is most proud of being part of the $500 million replacement of an old locomotive factory with Mohawk Harbor. 

“It’s just a transformational project for Schenectady,” Pollard said.

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