Developers made up for lost time last year as the city’s real estate market rebounded from the pandemic, in some cases racing to get projects rolling in order to qualify for a soon-to-expire property tax break.
Residential projects dominated the year’s top new building filings, with many explicitly aiming to qualify for the 421a tax exemption before it expires in June. To do so, developers must have their projects’ foundation footings completed before June 15.
Architects of record are key to getting projects underway, as they prepare construction documents and, in some cases, help design architects navigate local building regulations. SLCE Architects, a go-to firm for such services, raked in the most work last year by square footage.
The Real Deal compiled a list of the most active architecture firms of 2021, based on the aggregate square footage of ground-up projects. For the purposes of this ranking, TRD looked at the architect of record listed on new building permit applications filed last year.
1. SLCE Architects | 10 projects | 3.1 million square feet
The largest of the firm’s proposed projects was an 824,000-square-foot building at 61-10 Junction Boulevard in Rego Park, Queens. The project, which is being developed by Vornado Realty Trust, would rise 236 feet and is expected to have 573 residential units along with 61,000 square feet of commercial space.
SLCE’s top customers last year were Extell Development and Property Markets Group, in terms of the number of projects for which they hired the firm. Extell tapped SLCE for its 543-unit residential building at 1637 First Avenue, which will have an L-shape design to work around holdout tenants in two neighboring buildings. The developer also hired SLCE for its 400-unit residential building at 201 West 54th Street.
The majority of the architecture firm’s work was on residential projects, some of which aim to meet the 421a deadline. For example, SLCE is working on two of PMG’s projects that will take advantage of the Gowanus rezoning, at 267 Bond and 498 Sackett streets. More than 500 apartments are planned across those two buildings.
James Davidson, a partner at the firm, said that SLCE serves as both architect of record and design architect on most of its multifamily rental projects and on about half of its for-sale residential jobs. He noted that most of their projects seeking to qualify for 421a got underway six to nine months ago, and that, at this point, the firm is no longer taking on new projects seeking the incentive — it is likely too late for them to be grandfathered in.
The firm jumped to the top spot after ranking fourth on this list in 2020.
2. Handel Architects | 5 projects | 2.5 million square feet
Several developers filed residential plans prior to the official passage of the Gowanus rezoning, likely to ensure that their projects would qualify for 421a. Handel is working on 540 DeGraw Street, which will feature 268 apartments. The project’s developers, Domain Companies and the Vorea Group, filed plans in early November.
The largest of Handel’s jobs last year was a two-towered project at 265 South Street in Two Bridges. CIM Group and L+M Development Partners filed plans in September, calling for a 1,300-unit, 1.3 million-square-foot project. The towers were among a group of projects in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood that were held up by a series of lawsuits. The Chetrit Group went into contract for the site in November, but the deal, according to property records, has not yet closed.
3. Perkins Eastman | 6 projects | 2 million square feet
Like Handel, Perkins Eastman was hired to work on a Two Bridges project ahead of its expected sale. The Starrett Corporation began marketing its development site at 259 Clinton Street late last year, seeking around $100 million. It has filed plans for a more than 650,000-square-foot building, which would include over 1,000 units. The developer plans to have foundations in place by the spring in order to qualify for 421a.
Perkins Eastman’s largest project was an 800,000-square-foot, 818-unit mixed-use building planned for 42-02 Orchard Street in Long Island City. It is being developed by BLDG.
4. Beyer Binder Belle Architects & Planners | 4 projects | 1.4 million square feet
The largest of Beyer Binder Belle’s projects was a nearly 600,000-square-foot, mixed-use building at 589 Fulton Street, on a Downtown Brooklyn assemblage now known as “Brooklyn Bowtie.” Most of the space will be residential, with nearly 600 apartments along with 37,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
The architecture firm was also tapped to work on neighboring sites on West 206th Street in Inwood, the larger of which will become a more than 530,000-square-foot building with 470 residential units.
5. Gene Kaufman Architects | 5 projects | 1.3 million square feet
In October, the City Council signed off on a nearly 800,000-square-foot mixed-use project at 495 11th Avenue, a proposal put forth by the city’s Economic Development Corporation which is being developed by Radson Development and Kingspoint Heights Development. This was Gene Kaufman’s largest project last year, and it will feature two towers a block north of the Javits Center. The 55-story south tower is expected to have 683 hotel rooms, and the 56-story north tower will have 358 residential units, all of which will be affordable. FXCollaborative has been tapped as the design architect for this project.
Here’s the full top 10 ranking: