By Brian J. Pape, AIA
Costas Kondylis was the creative force behind so many built works it is hard to catalogue them. For West Villagers, the J.D. Carlisle Development’s One Morton Square, completed in 2004, is our most prominent example. As you may recall, it was flooded during Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, overwhelming West Street barriers and causing lobby and lower level damage that later was sumptuously repaired. The One Morton address, aka 100 Morton Street, is actually a luxury condominium complex, but was built as a multi-part development that also included luxury townhouses on Morton Street and a market rate rental building, aka 600 Washington Apartments, with separate entrances on Washington Street.
Kondylis was born in Central Africa’s Congo, but his family returned to his parents’ native Greece when he was a teenager. He received a Master’s in Architecture from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and another from Columbia University, New York City, in 1967.
After completing his studies Kondylis apprenticed, and then continued working for leading firms, before launching his own firm, Costas Kondylis and Partners, in 1989. The firm dissolved in 2009 during the Great Recession, like so many others had to do, with the departure of three partners. He started another venture, Kondylis Design, saying, “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.”
Building Stories, an excellent 2012 video documentary produced by The Real Deal (TRD), presents Kondylis’ personal account of his life and career as well as interviews with architects and other real estate professionals. Known for his realistic deadlines and ability to finish within budget, Mr. Kondylis stealthily secured a significant swath of the New York City skyline, rivaling any other architect.
Describing his take on his career, Kondylis said, “I was one of the first, if not the first architect, to design high-profile condominium apartments” to focus on design as a feature of luxury, designing for the best interior layout and views. “I believe in skyscrapers. It’s the most environmental form of urban development.”
Critics called his designs traditional and formulaic products of compromises made to satisfy developers, some of the “most difficult men in the city.” But Kondylis didn’t mind; he explained, “my concern is to create value for the developer because they’re my clients.”
“He designs an attractive, buildable, functional building…it’s certainly a reflection of enormous dedication and a love, a passion, for what a superb architect is capable of,” said real estate developer Larry Silverstein of Kondylis in Building Stories.
Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey considered Kondylis to have been “what every man should strive to be: humble, hardworking, and a great listener always avoiding an argument. I certainly wanted to be more like him after every exchange, even when we were not on the same side,” Bailey told TRD.
During the last few years, Kondylis’ firm was working on master plans for projects in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Algeria, among others.
Mr. Kondylis’ numerous awards and recent honors include: Lifetime Achievement Award for Design Excellence, New York Society of Architects (1997); Leader of Industry Award, the Concrete Industry Board (1997); and the Service Award, ORT (1995). He lectured as visiting critic at the Columbia University School of Architecture and at the New York University Master’s Degree in Real Estate Program.
In a 2010 interview Kondylis expressed a desire to work until age 85 or longer, and said, “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 time. I see so clearly now.”
“I have captured spirit in steel and glass. It’s a spirit that comes in a creative time where I first dream of a project,” Kondylis said. “That spirit is the spark. It’s the human spirit. It’s the one thing that lingers on when everything else disappears.”