The Real Deal New York

Costas Kondylis, the “developer’s architect,” dies at 78

He designed more high-rise buildings than anyone in New York's history
By Kathryn Brenzel | August 17, 2018 07:10PM

Costas Kondylis

Constantine “Costas” Kondylis, one of Manhattan’s most prolific architects and President Trump’s go-to designer, died on Friday. He was 78.

Kondylis is best known for his frequent collaborations with Trump, but his mark on New York City reaches far beyond those projects. During his 50-plus year career in the city, he designed more than 86 buildings, including Trump World Tower, Silverstein Properties’ Silver Towers, the Moinian Group’s the Atelier and J.D. Carlisle Development’s One Morton Square. Elsewhere, he designed the W Hotel and Residences in South Beach.

When he first came to New York in the late 1960s, Kondylis was an unknown. He was born in Central Africa and attended boarding school in his parents’ native country, Greece. He received his master’s in architecture from the University of Geneva in Switzerland but went on to get a second master’s degree from Columbia University in 1967. Right after graduation, he worked for Davis Brody & Associates. He 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.

It was his relationship with Trump that ultimately transformed Kondylis’ career. The architect’s work on 36th Street, including Manhattan Place at 630 First Avenue, built in 1984, captured the developer’s attention, he recounted in a documentary produced by The Real Deal in 2012, “Building Stories.” According to the New York Post, 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 its documentary that his meeting with Trump “change[d] the course of my life forever.”

Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Costas Kondylis (Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic)

“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.”

His work for Trump both dramatically elevated the architect’s profile in the city and plunged him into controversy. In the late ’90s, the proposed 90-story Trump World Tower drew the ire of community groups and the United Nations, which didn’t want the project to exceed the height of its headquarters nearby. 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.

Over the years, critics and peers have described Kondylis’ designs as “traditional” and formulaic, products of compromises made at the behest of developers. But he ultimately embraced his reputation as the “developer’s architect,” telling the New York Times in 2007: “My concern is to create value for the developer because they’re my clients.”

Despite the lack of critical acclaim, Kondylis was repeatedly hired by some of the biggest names in real estate. From 2000 to 2007, he designed 65 buildings — so, one building every six weeks.

“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.”

Costas Kondylis (Credit: Studio Scrivo for The Real Deal)

“He was what every man should strive to be: humble, hard working 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 said. “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 passed away in his home, surrounded by his two daughters, Alexia and Katherine. Services will be held in October (details to follow).

“When I see one of my buildings sitting there in front of me, 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,” Kondylis said in 2012. “That spirit is the spark. It’s the human spirit. It’s the one thing that lingers on when everything else disappears.”

Building Stories from Reputation Line / Shiko Ohana on Vimeo.