Architecture Spotlight: Cary Tamarkin

At Home in Manhattan and the East End

Cary Tamarkin is a rarity in his field – or fields. After several years working purely as an architect, he decided to branch out into real estate development in the mid-1990s. As president of Tamarkin Co., an architectural and development firm responsible for many notable NYC projects, he conscientiously straddles both sides of what can be a contentious collaboration – the age-old conflict between art and commerce.

He also straddles the worlds of Manhattan and the East End, as a resident of both areas and a creator of country homes in Southampton and Shelter Island. His bold, clean style showcases the best features of city and island life.

We caught up with Tamarkin recently and asked him about his work and current projects.

Artists have long lived on the East End and have been inspired by its scenery. What inspires you about the area?

Living in New York, I’m driven (but not necessarily inspired). The pulse of the city is constant. Building in New York involves lots of money and time. The interest clock is always ticking…people are not conversing but yelling…there’s no time to think. But just several hours away there’s calm and peace, you can breathe again. There is beautiful, ever-changing light, the sound of waves and the smell of the sea. The senses come alive. It’s a wonderful atmosphere to make art.

As a Long Island native, do you have an affinity for the region?

I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island (Exit 33). While I had a perfectly happy childhood, there was no relationship between the suburbs of my youth and the East End. Yet I do have a strong affnity for the Hamptons. I spent summers here for most of my life, first in a family home, and then when I had my own family we spent summers here, raising our children. Eventually we were lucky enough to design and build our own house on a gorgeous site in Shelter Island. It’s paradise.

Which elements of a country house, like your Shelter Island residence or your Island Creek House in Southampton, could be carried into a Manhattan apartment? What sensibility unites both types of projects?

Although the program for each type of project is completely different, the sensibility and the design process are identical. I’m always interested in quiet design. Not screaming for attention. Through many studies, the designs are pared back until just the essentials remain. To achieve this, I believe it is critical to draw and sketch by hand. I don’t even know how to use a computer.

The classic tools available to the architect are used as the basis for all of my designs – proportion, light, and space. I am also interested in my buildings achieving a muscular expression often created through exposed structure. Each project, be it a vacation home out East or a ground-up building in New York City, has a common thread.

Your East End homes are very much about their surroundings. To what extent is that true of our city projects?

The starting point for our designs is always a response to the context. I have to understand movement
of the sun and the effect light and shadow will have on the building. Specific views will ultimately affect the façade design and room layouts. I also need to understand the immediate context as well as the larger-scale urban fabric.

What are the most important variables when deciding to take on a project?

Since we are architects and developers, the factors for deciding to take on a project are completely different than the decision to do a private house. I will only do a development project if it has the possibility of being both beautiful and profitable. On the other hand the decision to take on the design of a private home must have a site that is compelling and a client that is interested in making a work of art. This is why people hate developers and love architects!

Tell us about your latest project, 550 West 29th Street.

I’m very proud of 550 West 29th Street. It fits into the fabric of the neighborhood quite comfortably. The use of hand-laid brick and huge steel windows refers to the industrial roots of the neighborhood. It offers a quiet elegance amongst the architectural cacophony that the neighborhood has become. West Chelsea has become the modern art capital of the world. 550 West 29th Street offers dramatic spaces not unlike the pioneering artist studios which originally populated the warehouses found throughout the neighborhood.


You built one of the first residential buildings along the High Line. What do you think of the area and its development now?

The first building we did in the area was 456 West 19th Street. At the time we designed and developed this building, the High Line was just a dream.As the High Line became a reality, the neighborhood started to attract residential developments, often created by internationally famous architects. The area has now become a sort of museum of architecture with most of the buildings screaming for attention. I believe it’s gotten too loud.

Any dream projects you would love to take on?

For each project I spend years working on the design of a building and hundreds of workers contribute their expertise, talents and craftsmanship making the design come to life. It always feels like a dream!