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David Manfredi On Howard Elkus: 'Partnerships Are Hard, But Ours Was Easy'

For architect David Manfredi, his friendship and business partnership with Howard Elkus always comes back to an airplane compact.

Howard Elkus and David Manfredi

While airline travel seems to entail more kicking and screaming than productivity lately, a flight Manfredi and Elkus took in the 1980s is where the business plan for their highly successful architecture firm was born.

“It really only took us 10 minutes to figure it out,” Manfredi said. “We wanted to do the best work on the best projects with the best people and have fun.’”

Over the span of 29 years working closely together at Elkus Manfredi Architects, the two stuck to the mission laid out at 32,000 feet without any arguments. A common set of values, and an understanding that their respective decisions were always made for what was best for the firm, birthed a trust that was sacred and unwavering.

“Partnerships are hard,” Manfredi said. "But ours was easy."

Howard Elkus designed part of Faneuil Hall's modernization project.

Elkus, who died unexpectedly on April 1 at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., was responsible for prominent, challenging developments like Boston’s Copley Place mall over the Massachusetts Turnpike and the retail component of Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. He was 78. 

Born in San Francisco, he came to Boston to attend Harvard’s Graduate School of Design with the full expectation of returning to the West Coast after getting his degree in 1963. Instead, he found a job at Cambridge’s the Architects Collaborative (where he first met Manfredi) and became a fixture of the city’s skyline. 

Elkus had a long history of helping his adopted city. He enthusiastically supported the Boston Architectural College because of his passionate interest in increasing diversity in architecture, and he saw the way to do so was through education. His help with Artists for Humanity came from his wholehearted agreement with its mission to bridge economic, racial and social divisions by providing under-resourced urban youth with self-sufficiency through employment in art and design.

Elkus and Manfredi were heavily involved with the United Way since the beginning of their company. Elkus Manfredi Architects holds a fundraiser each year for the organization, which honored the co-founders for their philanthropy in 2015.

Howard Elkus and David Manfredi

As for the legacy his co-founder leaves, Manfredi finds it difficult to narrow down. With work spanning cities like Abu Dhabi and New York City and back to Boston, it can be hard to decide on just one building. When pressed, he said the Heritage on the Garden mixed-use development is one that will always make him think fondly of his friend. 

“You look at it and don’t know when that building was designed and built. It has a durability in the best sense of the word,” he said. “It was never about fashion or a trend. It was the right solution for that location at that critical hinge of Downtown Crossing and Back Bay."

Charitable donations may be made in Elkus' honor to the following organizations: The Boston College of ArchitectureArtists for Humanity and Old North Foundation of Boston.