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22 NOVEMBER 2020
 It certainly isn’t the first crisis that Rotwein+Blake has experienced as a business, so it’s only natural
for Lance Blake to compare the pandemic to “every downturn, every crash, every real estate bubble” that the architecture firm has seen during its 65 years in existence.
Fortunately, he said, the practice has weathered the storm.
“Other than the personal, emotional and internal side of it with employees, and the psychological aspect of it, I would say from a business perspective, it’s not nearly as bad as 2008, 2000, 1990 or 1982,” said Blake, the president and second-
generation leader of the Livingston- based firm.
“And that’s as far as I go,” he quipped, adding: “Other than a few that got put on hold, I would say that business and most of our clients kept moving forward with their projects.”
It doesn’t hurt that Rotwein+Blake has made a point to diversify in recent years, expanding beyond its roots in the office and industrial sectors. The 20-employee firm
now boasts a growing practice in multifamily and mixed-use projects, which account for more than two- thirds of its current pipeline, as it continues to work for many of New
Jersey’s most prominent developers.
“We’ve gotten more momentum ... in multifamily and mixed-use, so I would say we have many more of those types of projects now than pretty much anything else,” he said.
It’s a far cry from the firm’s founding in 1955 by Edward Blake, Lance’s father, and Donald Rotwein. Early on, the practice played an active role in the growth of the state’s office and industrial market, designing projects for clients such as Evans Partnership and Murray Construction Co.
With Lance Blake joining in 1984, Rotwein+Blake made an important pivot when it began to view interiors
as a separate business line. Prior to that, Blake said the practice would essentially “give away” tenant fit- outs while designing core and shell projects for its large commercial clients, even as other firms were charging much more for interior spaces.
“That was a real missed opportunity,” said Blake, who became the firm’s director of design around 1986 and president in the mid-1990s. “(So) we decided to try to compete a little bit more in the interiors genre and make more of a business out of that.”
To that end, the company hired a dedicated interiors professional, paving the way for a business that “definitely morphed and developed into something a lot larger” than when it was simply packaged with building design. Tenant work became an important part of the practice through the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said, as it provided those services to law firms, corporate clients and others.
Rotwein+Blake largely thrived in the two decades that followed, thanks
to its work with clients such as Gale & Wentworth, Schenkman/Kushner, Adler Development and others. But those years also included economic downturns that would abruptly drain its project pipeline, making it clear that the practice needed to diversify. For instance, with the recession that took hold in 1990, the firm took steps to expand into new sectors such as retail and religion.
“We were kind of pigeonholed as spec office and industrial,” Blake recalled. “That was our reputation and those were the developers
that we were working for, so when recessions occurred those markets just fell off a cliff and we really had nothing. So in my tenure, after the first recession that I experienced, (we needed) to start getting into other genres.”
Diverse project pipeline, decades of experience remain key to Rotwein+Blake’s success
By Joshua Burd
 Lance Blake, president of Rotwein+Blake and son of co-founder Edward Blake, joined the Livingston-based architecture firm in 1984. He now leads a team of about 20 and its practice of commercial, residential and mixed-use projects.
Courtesy: Aaron Houston

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