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Thread: Architect: Costas Kondylis

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default Architect: Costas Kondylis

    The Architect in Winter

    In the black bookshelves of architect Costas Kondylis' all-black office sit stacks of sleek, coffee-table tomes. Titles with a larger font on the spine stick out against the rest and offer a random sampling: Gerhard Richter: A Retrospective, Indonesia: Design and Culture, Skyscrapers: Structure and Design, Earth From Above.

    Only the top few shelves and their contents are visible. Covering the lower shelves are large prints of architectural studies and renderings. Members of Mr. Kondylis' recently pared firm-there have been layoffs, and his partners recently split from him-mill about the former textile factory on West 27th Street, mostly young men bound by a uniform of well-coiffed hair, dark designer denim and subtly checked shirts tucked into distressed leather belts. The office is immaculately organized and decorated, fusing the boudoir chic of the Hotel Costes-high-backed banquet love seats line the foyer-with the brute charm of stripped industrial finish, like the raw, sanded wood flooring. And while Mr. Kondylis himself moves with a soft, deliberate shuffle, there is no doubt that the 69-year-old has blazed the trails of high-rise residential architecture.

    Known for his realistic deadlines and ability to finish within budget, Mr. Kondylis has over the past 20 years stealthily secured a significant swath of the city skyline, with more than 70 buildings to his name.

    "I was the experiment," he told The Observer earlier this month. He wore a tweed jacket, a blue dress shirt and an espresso-colored cashmere tie, as well as brown suede loafers without socks, his recently tanned ankles-he had returned the night before from a St. Martin vacation-peeking out from under his European pant break. "I was the architect who went out there and worked with developers, and every architect friend said I was going to go out there and get killed by them."

    Mr. Kondylis now worries that other, younger architects will never have such opportunities for pioneering. "I'm very, very sorry for this happening," he said of the recession, "because I think it will destroy the profession. I think most architects are going to find other jobs. They are being laid off now, and I think it will be difficult to find architects later."

    He has worked with most of the city's leading developers, including Stephen Ross, Mort Zuckerman and Bruce Ratner. But it's his association with Donald Trump that has secured him the most street cred in his industry-his industry being business, not architecture.

    Gazing at a map of Manhattan with red dots marking the locations of Kondylis buildings is similar to viewing the Duane Reade ads showing a pharmacy on every corner. His work's omnipresence in a city of eight million is impressive, but a New Yorker could walk by at least two of his buildings daily and likely never notice. "Costas is a traditional architect for developers who want traditional buildings in New York," Richard Meier once told The New York Times.

    Mr. Kondylis, for his part, balks at the cookie-cutter rap. "I think that's totally unfair. I mean, we've done some simple projects, but I'm trying to design every building to stand on its own."

    BORN TO GREEK PARENTS in the Belgian Congo, Mr. Kondylis grew up in Jesuit boarding schools. "There was a tradition in Belgium that noble families would send one child to convent to become a nun or a priest and some of these princes or barons went to Africa. They drove nice cars, they used Montblanc pens. They used to tell me at Christmastime, 'Get your parents to buy you a Montblanc pen,' and then I came back to school with my pen and they showed me how to take care of it. I earned an appreciation for quality and craft from the Jesuit priests."

    He interrupts himself. "Do I talk too quick? I have so much to tell you and not enough time. I'm always in a hurry, that's the problem; I'm always doing three things at once."

    His family returned to Greece when he was a teenager, and Mr. Kondylis trekked to Switzerland to study architecture in college. After earning his master's, he moved to New York, got a second master's in architecture with a focus on urban design at Columbia and was hired by Davis, Brody and Associates on the spot. "I showed [Lewis Davis] some of my models. He made a joke about one of my models, a crooked cardboard building. In fact," he said, smiling slyly, "I was anticipating Frank Gehry."

    He started work immediately. "I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and started making clay models for the Osaka Pavilion. We won the competition for it and I was part of the team. I'll always remember what I was wearing that day; I was overdressed: I had on a gray herringbone suit with a white shirt and gray tie."

    He worked for Davis, Brody and Associates for 10 years before moving to Philip Birnbaum and Associates. In 1989, he launched his own firm, Costas Kondylis and Partners. It spent the early years designing buildings like 1049 Fifth Avenue and the Monterey on East 96th Street, but it wasn't until Mr. Trump hired him in 1998 that the ball really started rolling. Their collaboration on the Trump International Hotel & Tower off Columbus Circle would be the beginning of a career-launching partnership. The next decade saw the firm's continued growth through over 70 buildings in New York alone.

    And then.

    "I've been through four recessions, never as deep as this one," he said. "This is not a recession; this is a depression, a major depression. ... I don't know what is going to happen to the profession after this."

    The economic crisis has affected the stream of Mr. Kondylis' work, as it has almost every other architect's. He sighed wistfully. "I don't know. It's a good pause, I think, to think about what we have done in the past. That is the silver lining of this catastrophe. We were a little too friendly for a while, a little too out of hand. But then, this recession has gotten out of hand as well."

    So far out of hand that Mr. Kondylis split from his longtime partners in August. "My partners and I, we grew in a different direction because I was always the conceptual designer of the firm. And they were more executive architects. They thought I was doing too much abroad, and they were right."

    Since the split, three of the partners, Alan Goldstein, David West and Steven Hill, have formed their own firm, Goldstein, Hill and West Architects. Mr. Kondylis was quick to say that, post-split, he left all ongoing projects to them.

    "We had a different vision of where to go with the firm," Mr. West said, echoing his ex-partner's explanation for the split. "Costas was interested in international and large-scale work, and we were more focused on New York City residential architecture." Asked whether the two firms were currently working on any projects together, or planning to, Mr. West hesitated. He later called back, reporting methodically, "The two firms are working cooperatively toward successfully concluding ongoing business."

    Mr. Kondylis, whose firm has 20 employees, compared to the old one with more than 150, is optimistic regarding his firm's future. He currently has at least 20 projects overseas, though almost all are dormant due to the recession. "We have a small office in Qatar that is run by my friend who is a Lebanese architect.

    "And I've been invited to Hanoi in two weeks. I was invited by the government," he said with a subtle flush of pride, "so I am going soon."

    Locally, Mr. Kondylis is working on a building in White Plains. "And I have another friend who is giving us a project in Chelsea; any day we should have the go-ahead. So it's coming back slowly."

    Meanwhile, the architect will turn 70 in April. "It's my fourth chapter, professionally speaking. I hope it's going to be a 15-year chapter, I hope to work until I'm 85 and maybe longer. I'd like to be like Philip Johnson-he passed away when he was 92-but he still had his wits. In terms of architectural judgment, I think I'm at the top of my-of my time." After a pause, he added, almost to himself, "I see so clearly now."

  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    Far West Village, NYC


    Looking at his website's project list, you can see that Kondylis was the standard bearer for New York residential buildings from 2000-2010. The decade should actually be named after him - Kondylisian.

    IMO his buildings, while an improvement over similar scale residential towers of the 1970-90s, are still, for the most part, middling.

    Here are representative, upper-end apt towers from different eras:

    Classic (era of dignity, beauty & refinement):

    1960s (decade of the balcony slab):

    1970s & 80s (the future is now):

    1990s (see 1980s):

    2000s (the hermetically-sealed, sterile, wannabe "artful" kondylisian period):

  3. #3


    Hey Randy, you tell it like it is better than most.

    What's your background?

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2004
    Far West Village, NYC


    ^PM'd you.

  5. #5
    Fearless Photog RoldanTTLB's Avatar
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    May 2009
    Broomfield, CO


    So while this is a solid look, can these average towers really be considered upper end these days? I mean, Thinking of things like 15 CPW, Superior Ink, The Laurel, etc, doesn't it feel at least a little bit like the high end has tried to recapture some of the older magic? I mean, as far as standard issue stock of new buildings go, I tend to agree that most recent build is an improvement, if blandly so, on the stuff that was put up throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Nothing will ever again touch the detailing of the buildings erected in the early part of the 20th century either. The craftsmanship, scale, etc just aren't there. Additionally, what those buildings are used for now is wildly different then how they were used when built. Take a building such as mine. When it was built it was for rich people, the whole building was only 18 units across the 6 floors. It's now 60 units, having undergone white flight and being chopped into pieces. So many of the nicest buildings had this happen to them, partially because of population trends. Let's look at how many people NYC now houses vs. how many it housed then:

    1900 3,437,202 126.8%
    1910 4,766,883 38.7%
    1920 5,620,048 17.9%
    1930 6,930,446 23.3%
    1940 7,454,995 7.6%
    1950 7,891,957 5.9%
    1960 7,781,984 −1.4%
    1970 7,894,862 1.5%
    1980 7,071,639 −10.4%
    1990 7,322,564 3.5%
    2000 8,008,288 9.4%
    2008* 8,363,710 4.4%

    Clearly "urban renewal" (1950-1980) did little to increase the population, but so much of the population growth early in the century was an overwhelming crush of people into tenements we wouldn't consider livable now. The serious growth of over 1m people since 1980, though, has created a huge need for housing on a scale which it was not previously being built. Anyway, I guess this is only tangentially related to the original topic at this point. Sorry for straying. That's my 2 cents, though.

  6. #6
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Bank accuses Kondylis of civil fraud

    The Real Deal
    By Adam Pincus
    May 08, 2010 01:00PM

    Legal challenges for prolific architect Costas Kondylis who designed large residential towers such as the Trump Organization apartment buildings in Lincoln Square, are mounting.

    A division of New York Community Bank is claiming in court papers filed this week that Kondylis as well as his former partners and related companies lied to the lender when the firm sought an extension of a revolving loan.

    New York Commercial Bank, a division of Westbury, L.I.-based New York Community Bank, says in the suit filed May 3 in New York State Supreme Court that it lent the firm more than $1.29 million through the revolving loan, which was guaranteed by the company and its principals, under a false representation about the firm's financial condition.

    This suit comes a little more than a month after a state judge ruled that Kondylis former company Costas Kondylis & Partners owes rival firm Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects more than $119,000 in unpaid fees they sued for last year.

    Kondylis professional partnership has been in flux as well. Kondylis dissolved Costas Kondylis & Partners last fall and created Costas Kondylis Design, while three of his former partners split off to form Goldstein Hill & West Architects, The Real Deal reported.

    The suit filed by New York Community Bank says Kondylis, his former companies including Costas Kondylis & Partners and former partners "obtained this financing based on certain fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions."

    The relationship with the bank extends as far back as 1997, and the revolving loan account was renewed annually until the loan went into default in the summer of 2009.

    The bank claims in the suit that Kondylis told the financial institution in June 2009 that it had $7 million that clients would pay soon in so-called accounts receivable, but a month later the firm defaulted on its revolving loan and recently admitted that it had less than $2 million in receivables at that time.

    An employee at Costas Kondylis Design said the architect declined to comment. Partners at Goldstein Hill & West did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the bank said its policy was not to comment on legal matters.

    All rights reserved © 2010 The Real Deal



    when you tell a bank you have $7 million in AR most normal banks trying to lend against that will verify that. I think NYCB needs to be investigated by its regulator for inadequate risk controls. They are putting their customers' deposits at risk. Costas Kondylis will argue that he had many semi cooked deals and thought that he needed to put them on the loan app.
    Comment #1 Posted By: Anonymous 05/08/10

    NYCB Is fraud up the whazoo.
    Comment #2 Posted By: Anonymous 05/08/10

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