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The legacy: Goldstein Hill & West rise with reviving market

1:38 pm, June 23, 2011

By Roland Li

In January 2010, Costas Kondylis dissolved his eponymous architecture firm, one of the most prolific in the city. But for three of the firm’s senior partners, Alan Goldstein, L. Stephen Hill and David West, the move has created new opportunities.

Shortly after the break, they formed Goldstein Hill & West Architects, LLP, joined by around 20 of their former colleagues.

At first, the new firm’s main focus was completing existing projects, including Larry Silverstein’s Silver Towers, Extell Development Co.’s Rushmore and Aldyn, and the Continental, developed by Atlantic Realty Development.

But as developers move to revive projects amidst an economic thaw, Goldstein Hill & West are poised to continue to work with past clients, and diversify with new types of projects. As part of its new identity, as well as economic realities, the firm has taken on smaller projects of under 100,000 s/f, or even under 25,000 s/f, sometimes in new neighborhoods.

“Our new firm is a little more broad-stroked,” said Hill. They have been examining potential developments in Boston and the Northeast, as well as branching into office and commercial spaces.

Liberty Green

But the bulk of their work remains residential. One of the firm’s newest projects is Liberty Green, the last residential building in Battery Park City, developed by Milstein Properties.

Architecture firm Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn, which merged with Perkins Eastman last November, was also involved in the interiors, along with Kondylis. The building features solar panels and a blackwater recycling system and is targeting LEED Gold designation, along with a large community center.

Designing practical buildings, rather than sculptures, remains a key to the group’s success. Often, that can mean navigating the city’s complex zoning and preservation restrictions, requiring creativity and, quite often, revisions.

Last year, for Extell’s Riverside Center proposal for the Upper West Side, Goldstein Hill & West worked with the developer to navigate month of land-use hurdles. The firm took French architect Christian de Portzamparc’s five-tower design and tweaked layouts, configuring the buildings towards saleable and rentable residential units. At the same time, it attempted to address concerns from the residents over shadows and open space, working alongside landscape architects Matthews Nielsen.

At the end of 2010, the project was approved by the City Council, and construction is expected to begin in 2012.

The recent wave of high-end residential properties has created an emphasis on design – a positive for the architects, the partners said. Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development Co., for example, will review each layout, column, duct and closet, pouring over floorplans for hours.

A rendering of 87 Chambers

“He does not kid around,” said Hill, who added that most prominent developers are very hands-on with the projects. And because the firm often works with repeat clients, they can incorporate or change elements from the past projects, based on feedback.

The firm has an edge when it comes to land use. West is a zoning veteran, and estimates that he has done studies of roughly 2,000 Manhattan sites. He has boxes of files in his office, encompassing master plans, land assemblage and potential development sites.

Recently at 87 Chambers Street, the architects submitted a façade design to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a potential hotel, but were told to go back to the drawing board. The LPC cited the ornamentation on the windows, which were discarded for a flatter surface. The new design was approved unanimously.

Alan Goldstein, L. Stephen Hill and David West

The three partners of the firm arrived at architecture in different, yet complementary ways.

Goldstein intended to be an engineer, but his passion for drawing led him towards architecture at City College, with the likes of Le Corbusier and Russian Constructivism inspiring him. He continues to sketch his designs at first, although they eventually go digital.

Hill’s family was in the import-export business, and his father would tell him, “Architecture isn’t a career. It’s a hobby.” But he was undeterred and studied architecture at Pratt, although some of his business heritage remained, as he ran part of the business side at the old firm.

Like Goldstein, Hill also begins approaching projects by drawing them.

“You really understand the spaces when it flows from your pencil,” said Hill, who is an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and Norman Jaffe.

West attended the University of California at Berkeley and was informed by both the arts and science – his father was a chemist. Painting was his first medium, but when he took a class from Lars Lerap, a Swedish architect, West was hooked.

“I realized immediately that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. As a hobby, West does woodworking.

Although it has officially been a firm for only a year-and-a-half, Goldstein Hill & West is composed of veterans – the partners have decades of experience – and it has been well-received by the city’s major developers. Donald Trump, who had long been associated with Costas Kondylis, was quick to reach out, and the firm has done work at 40 Wall Street.

“It’s just been phenomenal,” said Hill. “This is the bright spot for us.”

Despite being formed in one of the toughest real estate markets in New York, the partners see the next wave of development already beginning, and are engaged in a number of projects that they aren’t yet allowed to disclose. They are confident in their experience and partnership.

“That’s something that really separates us from new, young architecture firms,” said Goldstein. “We have a legacy.”

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