2008 didn’t pan out very well in the global markets, so it was nice to have the architecture to fall back on. Our first project was a condo on West 28th Street.
Did you poach any projects from SOM after you left?
No. I left saying I would not do that.
You’re a saint. You just combined two buildings into a luxury residence in Manhattan. Tell me about 25 Mercer.
We bought these buildings in 2014. They’re cast iron from the 1860s in Soho. This is the first project for which we’ve used all our departments: architecture, design, branding, and art. There’s a built-in history of art in the neighborhood and in the buildings themselves. We did a series of art installations inside them before the interiors were demolished.
Your portfolio also has many low-income projects, including St. Barnabas and another complex in a neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Are the luxury condos a means to some altruistic end?
I think it’s a very good balance. The low-income housing projects bring us a different kind of satisfaction. The budgets are low, so when we come up with solutions it’s a great feeling. I love doing low-income housing.
Does your approach change between luxury condos and low-income?
We treat everyone equally. We don’t see a distinction between rich people and low-income families. The key is to design housing projects as if we were designing them for ourselves. We’re building them for sophisticated people. People with pride. That’s why we use different materials and we don’t paint them like dorms. No bright colors.
What advice would you give to ambitious young architect-slash-developers?
You need to persevere and develop relationships to be successful. Having smart partners is also a key component, as is working seven days a week, especially at the beginning.
A New York real estate developer was elected U.S. president. Could you foresee being the first of your kind to be beatified by the Pope?
I think there are things that would preclude me from getting that distinction.
St. Barnabas’s slate wasn’t so clean, I’m sure. How would you like to be martyred?
Buried alive in the concrete of one of my foundations. Do it the old-fashioned way.