Goldstein, Hill & West: How New York’s Most Anonymous Architects Have Taken Over the Skyline

Wary of Gehry? Call every developer's favorite architect.

img 1807 Goldstein, Hill & West: How New Yorks Most Anonymous Architects Have Taken Over the Skyline

Hill, West and Goldstein, the architects you never knew you knew. (Peter Letre)

The sun was setting over New York harbor, and behind it, the coast of New Jersey. From the 17th floor of 11 Broadway, through the not-floor-to-ceiling, turn-of-the-last-century office windows, the Statue of Liberty was plainly visible. She appeared to be waving through the late-summer haze. Milling about and sipping champagne were some of the city’s biggest developers and their employees, names emblazoned upon apartment towers from this end of Manhattan to the other and beyond.

Silverstein, Ratner, Extell, Elad, Milstein, Glenwood, Trump. All the big firms were there, along with many other machers and dealmakers. It could have been a convention of The No Nonsense Apartment Builders Association of the Greater Five Boroughs. Instead it was the third anniversary party for Goldstein, Hill & West and the unveiling of their new downtown offices.

The foyer is painted a slick graphite gray, with a globular chandelier overhead, but beyond that, the designer pretense fades away. There are no amoebic benches, no plywood bookcases, no 3D printer for producing models of unusually torqued and cantilevered buildings. Little hangs on the walls besides drafting templates and zoning handbooks. It is this simplicity of design, aesthetic and attitude that draws the city’s biggest developers to the firm.

“I like them, they’re good guys, they’re rational, they understand the business” Extell founder Gary Barnett told The Observer recently. “They know how to get a project done, the know it has to make sense. You can’t just build any crazy old thing.”

Slideshow: The Works of Goldstein, Hill & West >>

It typically takes decades for an architect to reach any level of success, let alone work with the biggest names in New York City real estate. So how has an upstart firm managed to storm the city in just three years?

The designers have been doing it for decades, actually, albeit in the shadow of another architect who received the most of credit while Alan Goldstein, Stephen Hill and David West did the work. Before New York knew Richard Meier and Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Christian de Portzemparc, Neil DeNari and Bjark Ingels, Herzog & de Meuron, the condo king was Costas Kondylis.

Born in Greece and trained in Switzerland, Mr. Kondylis came to New York four decades ago, and in that span of time he developed the pre-eminent residential architecture firm in the city. His most famous client is Donald Trump, for whom he designed one of his most recognizable buildings, the black obelisk looming over the U.N. known as Trump World Tower. For more than a decade it was the city’s tallest apartment building, and one of its most sought-after. Derek Jeter was among those calling it home. But The Trump World Tower, designed with Mr, Hill, is just one of the more than 70 projects Costas Kondylis & Partners created in New York in 21 years.

Map:The World of Goldstein, Hill & West >>

Nearly half of those are now Goldstein, Hill & West’s, or at least the partners lay claim to them, since they did the work while Mr. Kondylis was, they say, gallivanting around the globe. When his three partners decided to dissolve the old firm and start their own, it fell to them, not Mr. Kondylis, to finish the buildings, along with another 40 or so new projects they had since accumulated.