Interview of Cary Tamarkin, Founder and President of Tamarkin.co
You have a chic industrial, yet classic style to your buildings and an “anti-iconic” philosophy. Is that your intention?
We like getting attention, but we don’t like screaming for it. When people talk about working with the neighborhood, that’s contextual design, purposely blending in, which is not exactly where we’re about either—although a lot of people will pass some of our buildings, and they’re not sure if they’ve been there for a long time or if they’re new constructions. We don’t try to mimic the buildings in the area, but it’s not a self-contained statement. We don’t aim for that. I’m surprised that after all this time, there’s a kind of signature to them. That didn’t start out with me saying, ‘this is what I want all the buildings to look like.’ But if you’re true to your ideals, there will be a similarity between them.
Sometimes it’s appropriate, or it has no choice but to stand out among its neighbors, which have to take a step back — like the Guggenheim Museum that Frank Lloyd Wright did. That’s fine as far as urban design goes, to have a couple of statement buildings by talented people in the right spot. Like Frank Gehry’s building near the Highline. I don’t happen to be a personal fan of Frank Gehry although I think he’s a genius. Every time he does a building, it’s a statement building — though it’s getting to be the same statement building over again. But it doesn’t feel bad to me. What feels bad is lesser talented architects that just try and do tricks, but they don’t know how to do them as well. And there’s a lot of that because you don’t get many chances a year, much less in your lifetime, to build buildings. It’s a long, arduous process. So I think there’s a desire to strut your stuff, to show as much as you can, but that leads to all sorts of issues both urbanistically and physically.
You started out as an architect, and then turned to development. What prompted that decision?
I had a thought about eight or 10 years ago when it became a real fad for people to use Pritzker prize-winning architects. I said to people in my office, this is crazy. We make no money doing architecture. We should use someone else for architecture and just be developers and make a bunch of money.
There’s the artistic side, which I love, and the business side that I love. I’m not out to do a million projects a year. I’m not out to do the biggest building in the world. I just want to do beautiful buildings, and there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend my time designing them; Put the family to bed, and then sketch until 2 or 3 in the morning. If I were just an architect, it wouldn’t be that enjoyable. I’d have to take a bunch of clients just to keep cash flow going. It’s a terrible business. It’s wonderful to do, but a terrible business. The great thing about doing both is that I don’t have to take any architectural job except my own.
When you’re viewing a site to build from the ground up, what are you looking for?
The numbers that people are selling sites for now have gotten totally out of control. So the whole market’s changing. It doesn’t make sense, and there’s going to be a lot of collateral damage at the end of the cycle because there are a lot of new developers, and it’s a hard thing to do correctly. There’s acquisition prices, hard costs, construction prices. So the price of doing the whole building will not support the prices that you can get for the apartments when they’re done. So if I’m going to build anything in this environment, it’s got to be a great site.
A great site means a bunch of things. It could mean extraordinary views or on the river. We’ve done a couple of buildings like that. It could be an interesting place, like on a park for example. It could be in a zoning district or area that allows me to build with no height limit; I’d really like to do a tall building. It has to be unique, some place that we have a shot at making art. That’s what we try to do and make money while we’re doing it.