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A conversation with Costas Kondylis, the Greek who helped shape New York’s skyline and urban aesthetics

With over 50 skyscrapers to his name, Costas Kondylis has been a key player in shaping New York City’s skyline and modern urban aesthetics. Kathimerini’s color supplement K spoke to him about his work. You have some of the most important and famous buildings in the world to your credit. Is there anything else you would like to prove? Every week I feel as though I’m sitting exams. What I have achieved is not enough. The moment you pause is when you decline. What I am engaged in now is how to proceed to something bigger, more beautiful and more modern. My design studio is a creation of a dream I had, an area where we have time and freedom to dream architecturally and not be under the pressure of clients, time and deadlines. There were just four of us when we started out but now we are 25 people conducting studies. That is the creative aspect of our work. How do you plan a project? When we undertake a project we dream for a few weeks. I have the luxury to think, to imagine the building in relation to its environment, to decide whether I want something that complements or contrasts with the surroundings. We live in a highly capitalistic society where the financial aspect plays a major role. The key to success is I think to use design characteristics that maximize the value of a building. I consider design to be an added value. I also take into account the way of life, requirements and image the person who buys one of my buildings wants to project. Thirdly, I estimate what sort of investment the building will be. I want to be certain that the buyer, if they wish to sell in two of three years’ time, will not lose money and might even gain. Do all these factors restrict your creativity? This is where the strength and skill of the architect lies – to be able to produce a good piece of architecture while subjected to restrictions. It’s easy for someone to give you complete freedom to do what you want. What is difficult is creating an environment that is favorable toward future tenants and is also an architectural sculpture that is aesthetically pleasing in an urban environment. This is the enormous challenge. Your buildings have classical features. If a building is designed according to current trends, when the trend discontinues the building will lose value. I keep abreast of all modern trends and I want to be a part of them. I am not a reactionary but I can go only as far as the client and market allow me to. If I lose my client there is no building afterward. This alone goes against what architecture is about in essence. Architecture is supposed to shape the actual environment, not to remain as designs on paper or as highly ambitious plans. One would think you do business as if playing a game of Monopoly. It all started with the presence of successful entrepreneurs around me when I was young, my father being the first. I have always admired people who start off with nothing and make it in the business world. This excites me. On the other hand I have always liked architecture and design, in particular industrial design. I was passionate about architecture and I had talent. My mother sensed my talent first and pushed me in that direction without me realizing it. That’s how I developed my motto: I believe good buildings mean good architecture and good architecture means good business. You are well known for high-quality skyscrapers such as the Trump World Tower, which is the tallest residential building in the world. The economics of buildings is what plays the biggest role. In fact they are machines that produce money. What is of great importance is maximizing the value of the land. In contrast with the formula «form follows functionality,» in fact «form follows money.» However, you yourself have chosen not to live in a skyscraper. I grew up by the sea, in Greece, Europe and Africa. I see skyscrapers as mountain peaks. I like tall buildings but I see them as reception areas, apartments where you receive people and have parties. They belong to people who have their homes in a New York suburb. When you want to entertain you don’t need to be in an area that inspires the snugness of a home. Many people, of course, like these apartments as permanent homes as well. In many of them you wake up in the morning and you are above the clouds. How does one survive in a ruthless market like that of New York? One of the reasons why I am here is because I am exclusively devoted to designing buildings. I did not want to get involved in business even though I had many opportunities. I decided quite young that I did not want to be distracted from design and architecture. I knew that I wanted to devote 110 percent of thought and work to architecture or I would be scattered left and right, wasting energy, control and focus. When someone devotes 110 percent of themselves to work, what’s left for everything else? It’s true that it’s had an adverse effect on my personal life. There is little time for my kids and family but I ensure that I give them quality time. I am very close to my two daughters so I must have done something right. At least that’s what I say to myself because I love both of them very much. Now we have other ways of spending time together. One of my daughters and I have created her own company in which I am the main shareholder but she herself manages it. How come you like both static buildings and fast cars? When I was young I wanted to be a car designer. When I finished junior high school I looked for a university to study car design but there was no such school in Europe then. I would have had to go and study at the Fiat factory and learn the work inside the factory, which I didn’t want. I see cars as industrial design and I keep abreast of trends in car design, because aerodynamic design is necessary for very high buildings.