Stephen Ross, King of Columbus Circle

Mr. Ross’s office itself is a product of the design process. It is an odd shape, because it sits at the corner of the parallelogram that is the building’s north tower, and looks out over Columbus Circle and Central Park. When the building’s architect, David Childs, first designed it for Related in the late 1990’s, he argued that the building had to imitate the curve of the traffic rotary, and to do that, you needed parallelograms. Some members of the development team said that the odd angles of the parallelograms would make the inside space less desirable.

“I said, ‘These will be the most dramatic views. Where do you walk on the boat? You walk out onto the prow of the boat. These corners are like the prow of the boat,’” Mr. Childs recalled. “The only person who said yes was Steve. He overruled everyone else. And now everyone wants to lease those corner rooms. That’s where the dramatic views are.”

Mr. Ross’s office occupies the ship’s northern prow. His penthouse spans a whole floor of the southern tower, Mr. Childs said, and therefore commands the ship’s other prow, overlooking downtown and the Hudson River. (According to a deed filed last December, Mr. Ross did not pay any money for the apartment.)

For a time, Time Warner Center held the record for the most expensive condominium sale in the city, at more than $42 million. While it has since lost that distinction, its recent resales have averaged just under $4,000 a square foot, according to appraiser Jonathan Miller, which makes them among the most expensive in the city. Mr. Miller said that eventually the Zeckendorf brothers’ 15 Central Park West may take the lead, but it would be largely thanks to Time Warner Center, which made the neighborhood safe for very high-end investments.

“It had a shaky start because of 9/11, and then the market itself improved over the years to the point where luxury properties were becoming sought after,” Mr. Miller said. “There seems to be a combination of Europeans and West Coast purchasers who are looking for a pied-à-terre in New York who have made it do so well.”

Oddly enough, for a company that is now known for its high prices—Mr. Blau said Related’s apartments command rents at 10 percent above market because of amenities—Related started out doing affordable housing, and still produces a lot of it.

While working on Wall Street in the early 1970’s, Mr. Ross learned about all the various tax incentives that the federal government provides for building low-income housing. He decided to branch out into real estate, both developing affordable apartments and then syndicating the tax credits that those units generated and selling them to financial institutions wishing to offset their profits. That company, Centerline, was eventually spun off into a separate company, of which Mr. Ross is chairman. But Related has held on to the properties.

As the company became richer, it geared more of its projects toward higher-end purchasers, choosing prime locations with solid architects, and the company spread, opening operations in Los Angeles and Chicago, with an affiliate company in Miami. Now, Related has a portfolio worth $15 billion, including 315 properties and 84,000 residential units. Its 10.3 million square feet of retail and office space include two urban malls, one in the South Bronx and the other in East New York, Brooklyn, which have been both praised and panned for bringing chain stores to low-income neighborhoods.

A native of Michigan, Mr. Ross said he looked up to his uncle, Max Fisher, an industrialist and financier who warned him that once he left for New York, he would never come back. Once, during the economic downturn of the early 1990’s, Mr. Fisher and some other family members invested money in Mr. Ross’s real estate ventures. Mr. Ross later bought out these relatives, and, otherwise, he said that he made it on his own.

“I think I left Detroit because I didn’t want to be known as his nephew,” Mr. Ross said, “but it never hurt me being known as his nephew. He was well-known in New York and respected worldwide.”

Mr. Ross says that his secret is to hire well. Although his 2,000 employees include many who signed on shortly after college and stuck with it, he often recruits accomplished figures. He commissioned the design for Time Warner Center from Mr. Childs in no small part because Mr. Childs and his firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, had worked on an earlier design for the same site that foundered a few years earlier. While putting the Columbus Circle proposal together, he drafted Kenneth Himmel, a retail consultant who had worked on Copley Place in Boston and Water Tower Place in Chicago, two early upscale vertical shopping malls. More recently, he hired Vishaan Chakrabarti, a former city planning official who now heads the Moynihan Station project for the Related-Vornado partnership.

Stephen Ross, King of Columbus Circle