The Real Deal New York

Starchitects, shmarchitects

Emerging NYC designer-developers see their projects through from beginning to end
By Tess Hofmann | May 11, 2015 01:54PM

Jared Della Valle likes to refer to his co-workers as Swiss Army knives — each is familiar with the development, design, construction and sales processes. As the president of Alloy Development, he is part of a growing crop of entrepreneurs that are bringing the disciplines under one roof.

On Friday, he spoke at design showcase BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, along with Flank co-founder Mick Walsdorf and DDG CEO Joe McMillan, both of whose firms also encompass multiple stages of development.

“It’s not a tremendous push-pull situation,” McMillan said. “The designers want it to be a financial success. The construction team wants it to be a financial success. As well as the traditional developers.”

The approach has brought about luxury projects like Flank’s the Boerum, which broke neighborhood records by selling two condos for over $4 million earlier this year, and Alloy’s One John Street, which listed its penthouse for $8.8 million in February.

To designer-developer hybrids working in this type of setting, the trend of hiring “starchitects” for luxury buildings can seem baffling.

“It’s really all about this skin and this image,” Walsdorf said of the starchitect trend in general. “If you look at the floor plan, where people actually live, it’s horrible. Or let’s say it could be better.”[vision_pullquote style=”1″ align=””] “If you look at the floor plan, where people actually live, it’s horrible. Or let’s say it could be better.” [/vision_pullquote]

Walsdorf explained the dissonance often comes from the fact that the starchitect will be hired on a limited basis to design a striking facade, while a New York-based architect will fill in the rest.

“You end up with a sometimes poorly executed exterior and a dislocated interior,” he said.

McMillan said that when looking for a high-quality product, a building sponsor with a good track record is “pretty foolproof” compared to going for a brand-name architect.

For Della Valle, the idea of being a jet-setting starchitect is simply unappealing. “The fantasy of being a starchitect is not that great because you’re still working for someone,” he said.

The panelists agreed that one upside to the starchitect trend is that it signals the public’s revitalized interest in design.

“The capital A architecture is becoming increasingly important,” McMillan said.

The designer-developers also believe they hold the key to working with the oft-dreaded Landmarks Preservation Commission. Because they share design as a priority, Della Valle said, they are able to engage with the board rather than “presenting at them.”