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

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

In the world of New York City development, that can be an important thing. This is the most expensive city in the nation in which to build by a wide margin—many developers peg the price at twice what it would cost to build in Minneapolis, Tuscon, even Philly or Boston—because of land values and construction costs, be it materials or union contracts. The wonkier your building is, the more it is going to cost, and unless you think buyers will pay a considerable premium for some Pritzker poo, it is probably not worth it.

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That is why from Riverside South to the Apthorp to the Plaza Hotel, up and down First, Second, Third avenues, Tribeca, both Villages, Brooklyn, even Jamaica, Queens, Goldstein Hill & West is there.

Many developers approach the firm even before they are ready to build or even buy a property. “David West is an architect, but he’s also probably the best zoning attorney in the city, one of the two or three best,” one developer who has called on the firm multiple times said. Mr. West analyzes every angle, every facet, every possible shape of a site in order to determine the biggest possible building that can rise on it. This can create a sense of gigantism, of bursting at the seams, but at 40 stories, in the home of the Empire State Building, who really notices?

“The truth is, many of these forms are not that flexible because there are so many constraints,” Mr. West said of building regulations and construction constraints—the more complex a building, the skilled the labor, the more it costs.

“Some architects have these randomized openings and windows, because it looks cool on the outside,” Mr. Goldstein pointed out. “You know what? You live inside the building.”

“Irrespective of style, there are certain things every building has to have,” Mr. Hill added. “Underneath it all, it’s the same basic structure there, and that’s what they rely on us for. Otherwise it’s just a show piece.”

After Mr. West sets the parameters for the buildings, it falls to Messrs. Goldstein and Hill to design the skin and conceive of the interior layouts that encase Mr. West’s bounteous boxes. They are expert at arranging kitchens to make a galley feel like a chefs. A soffet here or a dropped living room there suddenly makes a home feel twice as big. “Even the right tread size for an emergency stair can make all the difference in a building, Mr. Goldstein said. “Five feet every fight, over the course of 40 stories, that can really add up.”

“It’s like the recipe to McDonald’s special sauce,” he added.

“It’s a special instinct,” Mr. Hill said. “We’ve been doing this long enough, we just know what works.”

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