Interview with Architect Cary Tamarkin,New York
You have a chic industrial, yet classic style to your buildings and an “anti-iconic” philosophy. Is that your intention?
Cary Tamarkin: 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.
How do you feel about the proliferation of the all-glass building?
Cary Tamarkin: I don’t know when the all-glass building became the model for a residential building. I’m looking across the street right now at an all-glass building, and I can see the backs of beds pushed against the walls in one apartment, a desk with a computer and wires coming down. It’s ridiculous. On paper, I’m sure it looks fine. The proportions are good. But glass doesn’t want to go down to the floor in a residential building. It’s hard to furnish or to live in.
When you’re viewing a site to build from the ground up, what are you looking for?
Cary Tamarkin: 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.