Michael Kirchmann from GDSNY speaks about The Emerson in New York

The Emerson from GDSNY is a love letter to New York

We speak to GDSNY’s architect and developer Michael Kirchmann about his work, approach, and recent completion, The Emerson at 500 W25th Street, a boutique residential building on New York’s Highline

With the real estate market in New York State now very high up in the air and herds of city dwellers literally running up the hills due to the pandemic (both in the hinterland and in the suburbs), one might think that the death knell had sounded for the construction boom age of the Big Apple. Not quite, says Michael Kirchmann, half of real estate development firm GDSNY, which is behind a new boutique building called The Emerson, which is on the High Line and recently launched eight sprawling apartment buildings for sale.

The Emerson was designed and developed from the ground up by GDSNY and at first glance it seems pretty predictable. Located on a prominent corner in the Chelsea neighborhood at 500 West 25th Street, the ten-story building is an elegant blend of American limestone and glass. A dynamic cantilever that aligns the building with the High Line ensures that each of its eight apartments offers a view of the popular walkway as well as some parts of the Hudson River. For residences on floors two through eight, a private terrace, loggia, or garden is a facility, while the duplex penthouse on the top floor has a 60-foot roof terrace. With all units bathed in daylight and featuring an abundance of design elements in individual quality, be it the herringbone floor made of white oak or the lighting concepts designed by L’Observatoire, the design lead project is tempting on a completely different level .

Kirchmann brings with him a unique insight, especially since he wears both architect and developer hats in the company he founded together with his partner Alan Rudikoff. Kirchmann was previously an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he worked for ten years. He doesn’t just understand the value of good design on a superficial level. In particular, the Emerson holds New York Green Property Certification – a mayor-provided land certification program that symbolizes the city’s confidence that the property is one of the safest places to live and work in New York City.

Here he discusses how the pandemic affected building in New York and why he believes the city will ultimately prevail.

W *: What was it about the New York real estate landscape that made you embark on this journey between architects and developers?

Michael Kirchmann: I grew up in South Africa in a family of designers and developers – so I was immersed and interested in both from an early age. New York City meant a lot to me as a boy too. I remember getting obsessed with movies that had the city as a backdrop. New York just always seemed to be the center of the universe of mine.

When I moved to New York City after graduating from architecture school in 1997, I had never been there and the city was everything I dreamed of. I remember walking down Canal Street one rainy summer evening just days after I landed and feeling like I was on the set of Blade Runner. It was love at first sight.

As an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, I have designed and built projects all over the world. I had always planned to do my MBA and move on to development, but found that the real-world education I received at SOM, especially working with developers like Howard Ronson, was the best education I could have. Then in 2007 I woke up one morning and decided it was time. Then I started GDSNY.

My love and fascination for the city as an organism has never disappeared. In fact, it has only intensified. It still feels like a dream to be able to work and compete in the world of NYC architecture and development. New York was, is and always will be the best city in the world.

W *: How did these experiences influence your approach to the concept and design of The Emerson?

MK: This answer has two parts – one practical and one ambitious. The practical part is that we are aware that when we design and develop a building we are making a consumer product, and that it really is no different from Apple’s approach to making a new iPhone or that Fender is making a guitar. First and foremost, we need to deliver a product that people will want to buy; Hence, we evaluate the market and create a checklist to help make design decisions based on commercial goals. At The Emerson, we basically benefit from a triple-A corner location on the Highline, but we knew we wanted high ceilings, good light, a connection with nature, a healthy building and more. And we’ve checked all of those boxes – each end-to-end apartment has 140 foot windows, High Line views from every room, a private key elevator, the highest quality appliances, imported Italian marble, the best of materials and custom finishes, and maybe most importantly, each home has its own private outdoor area.

The more abstract and qualitative piece is the following: In all of our work, we let ourselves be inspired by the city, its history, its tactile fabric and its inhabitants, and always strive to create something that feels like New York and about. This could mean a lot to a lot of people, but to me it means designing and developing projects that feel timeless, enduring, relevant, and add to the sense of urbanity and vitality that makes New York great.

W *: How has the pandemic and subsequent lockdown affected The Emerson’s progress?

MK: The pandemic and the subsequent freeze on construction slowed us down by a few months, but this actually gave us some time to evaluate the building’s health and wellness features. We found that many of the existing features – the operable windows, the private outdoor space, the boutique nature of the building with just eight apartments, one apartment per floor, private garbage chutes, and more – make the project more desirable at this point in the health awareness survey. And we were able to upgrade air filters to the HVAC units as well as other antimicrobial features in the lobby and elevator.

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W *: What is the significance of the New York Green Property Certification both before and after the pandemic?

MK: The Emerson is just one of 24 Manhattan properties (of 46,486 buildings) that has earned NYC Green Property Certification. Given The Emerson’s location next to the Highline in West Chelsea, which used to be an industrial part of the city, we volunteered to go through an arduous environmental design and implementation program to test and sort the soil on the site, to ensure it was free of hazardous materials, installed highly insulated windows to provide acoustic separation within the building, and provided an extremely sustainable product.

W *: How has the pandemic affected real estate in New York through your observations?

MK: Personally, I’ve seen New York emerge stronger from several major crises, including September 11th and the 2008 financial crisis – and I’m very optimistic about New York City in the long term. New generations of kids like me from the US and around the world, growing up with dreams of New York, keep coming to the city and so are constantly adapting and developing dynamically. I have no question about New York’s ability to recover. This is how the city and its people are built.

However, there is no question that this pandemic is a huge disruptive event. It has already had an impact on pricing, sales and leasing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In times like these there is a flight to quality and location. Right now, in the urban residential real estate market, we are seeing greater demand for townhouses and boutique apartment buildings to reduce contact with others and a new emphasis on the outdoors – two trends that are likely to continue for a while.

Our discussions about the office market were very interesting. We currently have two boutique office buildings under construction in Midtown South, and even at this moment with so many working from home, there is a tremendous desire to come back to the office to work in teams and socialize Teams, and to develop relationships, mentor and mentor.

In the end, the only constant is change. The office and residential real estate markets will see changes as a result of this pandemic, and developers will adapt, innovate and respond to the changing market because we are hardwired to do that. § §

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