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September 24, 2008



If you've watched TV the past couple weeks, you've seen one of Kohn Pedersen Fox's more famous trophies, 745 Seventh Avenue—better known as the Lehman Brothers Building. Barclays must have been quite keen on the aesthetics, because it just paid $1.29B for the asset and two data centers in New Jersey. KPF chairman and architecture legend Gene Kohn has seen a lot of buildings cycles in the 32 years since co-founding the firm, and we sat down with him yesterday in his office on W. 57th to see what he thinks is next. Fortunately, at least one bright side.


Kohn doesn't expect larger developments to begin appearing on the skyline for four years barring a dramatic financial turnaround. But the bright spot he clearly sees is that unlike the recession in early 90s, there's not been overbuilding of office, and therefore he expects strong demand once the economy recovers. He says a lot of top Manhattan office space is now being designed without a name tenant in mind but just generally for law firms, financial institutions, or entertainment, publishing, and fashion companies, knowing that the city is full of such organizations whose leases will one day expire. Current financial uncertainties obviously delay or reduce expansion plans, but KPF is going forward on master planning 12M SF of mixed-use development with The Related Companies and Goldman Sachs for the West Side Rail Yards portion of the 40M plus SF Hudson Yards Master Plan, and is also working with Boston Properties and Related to design a 900K-SF LEED office building for the corner of 8th Avenue and 45th Street.


Kohn showed us one of the many project models gracing his office, but the detailed Hudson Yards mock-up was nowhere to be found—it was actually visiting a prospective tenant. Kohn remains optimistic that it will bring major new growth and opportunity to the West Side. In the meantime, he says architects and developers may have an easier time designing and building ultra high-end residential towers, as there still a demand for them; KPF, for one, is behind the 11-story One Jackson Square in the Village, currently being developed by Hines.


Despite the deceleration in New York, KPF remains on a tear in the Mideast and Asia. The KPF-designed Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in the world (as measured by highest occupied floors) opens next month; above, Kohn points out that the project's skyway is the highest man-made publicly accessible space in the world. KPF has also designed many of the other tallest buildings under construction: Hong Kong's International Commerce Center, Singapore's Marina Bay Financial Center and South Korea's Northeast Asia Trade Tower. Gene's passport is running out of space: He just came back from Dubai and Shanghai, is heading back to Shanghai and South Korea in October, and will make another trip to the Mideast in November. In between, he's stopping for vacation in Italy. He teaches a course on the Value of Design at Harvard Business School, and he paints. Don't let anyone tell you architects aren't still busy these days.

Amanda Marsh, formerly of Commercial Property News, is New York editor for Bisnow. Email her your story suggestions: 

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