Developer vs. Architect/Developer

East, Newsletter
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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Tim McDonald of Onionflats showed neighborhood designs based on Philly's classic trinity row home.

The night was called “Different by Design,” though it could have been subtitled “Designing Differences.” Developer Abby Hamlin moderated an amusing exchange between developers and architect/developers at Columbia University’s GSAPP Real Estate Development program on Tuesday. The original intent was to present the merits of good design to real estate development and architecture students, but a developer vs. architect rivalry emerged pretty early on. New York developer Jane Gladstein joined the Chicago based developers Karen and Robert Ranquist, while New York-based Jared Della Valle, San Diego-based Jonathan Segal, and Tim McDonald of Philadelphia represented the contingent of architects who act as their own developers.

A Jonathan Segal townhouse in San Diego. Courtesy Jonathan Sigal

Della Valle got the ball rolling with his presentation that included his recent designs for luxury projects at the High Line and a large-scale commercial building at Hudson Yards. Della Valle seemed equally at ease with the independence of being a architect/developer as well as serving the needs of other developer clients.

A Della Valle project in Chelsea. Courtesy Della Valle + Bernheimer

Jane Gladstein presented several completed projects, including two in Greenwich Village and Soho 25, a project geared toward the young “tragically hip buyer.” “When you’re selling things at a high price point, it’s not about need, it’s about desire,” she told the crowd. She then took the opportunity to remind the real estate development students that it was important for them to remember they were the ones in charge, not the architect.

A Ranquist developed project, designed by the Seattle-based Miller/Hull. Courtesy Modern Steel

As a few architecture students shifted in their seats, Jonathan Segal took the floor. The irreverent architect/developer asked for a show of hands from those in the audience who were architecture students. With a majority established, he told them they should all become developers so that they wouldn’t have to answer to developer clients. He then offered a litany of sage advice: “You don’t have to build product, you build indemnity”; “You have to learn how to stay away from the community groups, because they don’t have your interests in mind”; “A really dumb banker is a really good banker.” And perhaps the most incendiary tidbit of the night: “Architects are smarter than developers.”

By the time Tim McDonald reached the podium, his presentation of a family-owned business that merges community needs with green design proved the perfect antidote to Segal’s hard-charging demeanor. Karen Ranquist’s presentation of her firm’s work in Chicago, where they build luxury townhouses at a steady pace, brought the evening to a sedate conclusion.

Gladstein's 505 Greenwich designed by Handel Architects. Courtesy Gladstein Development

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