NEW YORK – His name was not as well-known as some of his architect peers, but his work for developers was, enough so that Constantine “Costas” Kondylis caught the attention years ago of Donald Trump and became his go-to designer, chased by the biggest names in real-estate and who designed more high-rise buildings than anyone in New York's history.
Kondylis, 78, passed away Aug. 17, his two daughters Alexia and Katherine by his side. Services will be held in October.
His legacy is enduring right up the skyline of Manhattan, where he designed more than 86 buildings over a career spanning more than half a century, including Trump World Tower, Silverstein Properties’ Silver Towers, the Moinian Group’s the Atelier and J.D. Carlisle Development’s One Morton Square as well as the W Hotel and Residences in South Beach, The Real Deal reported in a feature.
It was his meeting and collaborations with Trump which gained him a A-list of clients if not always the respect of his colleagues in the field and critics who said he put design second to what the developers wanted.
Kondylis' work on 36th Street, including Manhattan Place at 630 First Avenue, built in 1984, caught the eye of a young Trump who spoke of it in a 2012 documentary that The Real Deal also produced called Building Stories.
The New York Post said it was one of the first high-rise condo buildings in Manhattan and one of the first to focus on design as a feature of luxury. The architect told TRD in the documentary that his meeting with Trump “changed the course of my life forever.”
“He had a great sense of design, and I liked him,” Trump told TRD in 2012. “He was a young guy. I went up to the office, I saw him and I started giving him work.”
It took some years before that for Kondylis to establish himself in the completive world of architecture, especially in New York City, the country's most iconic and photographed, whose skyline is known around the world.
He came to the city in the late 1960s, unknown. He was born in Central Africa and attended boarding school in his parents’ native country, Greece, his Master’s in architecture from the University of Geneva in Switzerland and another from Columbia, in 1967.
Right after graduation, he worked for Davis Brody & Associates and then joined Philip Birnbaum & Associates, where he worked for nine years before launching his own firm, Costas Kondylis and Partners, in 1989. The firm dissolved in 2009 with the departure of three partners, and he started another venture, Kondylis Design, TRD reported.
But it was Trump who put his career in high gear, although not without some criticism from community groups who didn't want the proposed 90-story Trump World Tower to be higher than the nearby United Nations.
At the time, it was the tallest residential tower in the world. Kondylis also designed the Trump International Hotel and Tower and various buildings at Trump Place.
“I was one of the first, if not the first architect, to design high-profile condominium apartments,” he told the New York Post. “In general, people started looking at housing as a product—the same way you’d look at a car, at fashion and trends in clothes.”
While his career took off, critics and peers called his designs “traditional” and formulaic, products of compromises made to satisfy the developers and not art. But he told the New York Times in 2007 that he really liked being called a “developer’s architect,” because “My concern is to create value for the developer because they’re my clients.”
While that didn't earn him critical acclaim it brought plenty of customers. From 2000 to 2007, he designed 65 buildings, one every six weeks, becoming prolific too.
"He has probably designed as many Manhattan buildings as any other living architect," Architect contributor Karrie Jacobs wrote in a 1996 New York magazine article. "But his name is not well known because apartment buildings, or more precisely postwar high-rise apartment buildings, are not exactly looked upon as architecture."
“He designs an attractive, buildable, functional building,” Larry A. Silverstein, developer of the World Trade Center site, said in a 2007 New York Times article. “If I’m going to do a residential building in New York, the most natural thing in the world is to pick up the phone and call Costas.”
“It’s certainly a reflection of enormous dedication and a love, a passion, for what a superb architect is capable of,” developer Larry Silverstein said in TRD’s documentary.
Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey said that even when he represented clients against the architect — at one point in an action to evict Kondylis from his office space — he was “a true gentleman at all times.”
“He was what every man should strive to be: humble, hardworking and a great listener always avoiding an argument. I certainly wanted to be more like him after every exchange even when we were not on the same side,” he told TRD.
“He was also what many men desire and most men will never become: the New York City landscape is changed forever as a result of his work. And he did this working for some of the most difficult men in the city.” Kondylis said in 2012 he needed only to look out a window at New York City to see what he did. “I see where the inspiration shines through, and where I have captured spirit in steel and glass. It’s a spirit that comes in a creative time where I first dream of a project,” he said.
“That spirit is the spark. It’s the human spirit. It’s the one thing that lingers on when everything else disappears.”