By Scott Williams
March 2001 - Ismael Leyva could have played it safe and stayed in Mexico to build a career in architecture. Or he could have moved to an American city less intimidating than New York to learn English and pursue his dream of working on high-rise buildings.
But Mr. Leyva, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, the son of a barber and a housewife, found himself drawn to America’s largest city. “I thought New York was a place for architects, where things were happening, and I was interested in working on high-rise buildings,” he says.
Mr. Leyva’s desire eventually took him to CK Architects, known now as Costas Kondylis and Associates Architects, a New York architectural firm that specializes in designing interiors for high-rise buildings.
In his 15 years with CK, Mr. Leyva, 49, climbed the architectural ladder from draftsman to project architect to associate to senior associate and, finally, to partner. Along the way, he developed a reputation for designing elegant, functional, and highly salable residential interiors that endeared him to residents and developers alike – a reputation that followed him when he opened his own firm, Ismael Leyva Architects, in 1996.
“Ismael understands modern apartments, and his sense of space is extraordinary,” says David Wine, president of residential development for The Related Companies, the nation’s third-largest owner of residential properties. “His ability to plan apartments that are both efficient and marketable – places in which people enjoy living – is unique.”
The Related Companies, which has built more than 5,000 luxury residences in high-rise Manhattan buildings, chose Mr. Leyva to design, among others, the residential interiors for The Chatham, a 32-story luxury condominium project on Manhattan’s East 65th Street, and the Park Imperial, a residential/commercial development that will house Leyva-designed luxury condominiums on the 48th through 70th floors.
“I think Ismael is known as one of the top residential architects in the New York area,” says Mr. Wine, whose company recently chose Mr. Leyva to design residential interiors for the 600,000-square-foot residential component of the Time Warner Center in New York’s historic Columbus Circle. “Certainly people understand that Related, as one of most successful [developers], puts together the best team possible for any development, and Ismael being part of that team has gained him a certain level of notoriety.”
Mr. Wine says one of the keys to Mr. Leyva’s success is his knack for providing consumers with more usable (and therefore salable) space than other architects. “My job as a developer is to build value,” he says, and an architect plays in important role in building value by ensuring that a purchaser wants to buy or rent the product.
Mr. Leyva is equally popular with engineers and other consultants to his projects, says Jacob Grossman, a structural engineer and principal in the Manhattan engineering firm of Rossenwaser, Grossman Consulting. Mr. Grossman says one sign of a good architect is his ability to work with consultants to make a project both economical and practical to build.
Mr. Leyva, he says, is both a talented and a practical architect who incorporates structural requirements into his designs without sacrificing aesthetics or altering his initial vision. “Some architects have a set mind, and they aren’t open to changing anything,” says Mr. Grossman. “They’re not flexible in their layout.”
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