“Generally, I don’t like to do boxes” a refreshing declaration from Karl Fischer concerning his
preferred design. He continued to explain in a 2007 Curbed Magazine interview, “I like the buildings to have a little bit more flair -- maybe some curved lines, maybe angled lines. I like to make sure every building is a little bit different.”
When future architectural scholars settle before their keyboards to write the history of New York City, Fischer will have a prominent place in the text. The chapter devoted to him will most likely take a step back from the individual buildings he has designed, and look closer at the macro impact of his dedication to inner-city neighborhoods.
The Montreal-born Fischer is widely recognized as one of the most prolific architects working today in the five boroughs. In New York and Montreal alike, his projects garner sustained media coverage. He has achieved a level of attention akin to celebrity.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that Karl Fischer’s work is smoking hot. His creations have been growing by the day in New York City and Montreal, with many other projects to come,” wrote a Canadian blogger devoted to architecture. Media in New York typically preface a Fischer reference with “ubiquitous” and “prolific.” Quite the authentication from a city stingy on compliments.
Fischer has designed some two dozen buildings in New York, ranging from the 22-story Duffield Hotel to numerous luxury lofts and condos. These buildings stand among the most frequently cited transformative development projects in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg and Greenpoint sections. Stylistically, Fischer’s designs have a wide range as well, from new glass and brick structures to adaptations of old warehouses and commercial buildings. At times, he augments his work with glass-enclosed floors, as in the signature project at 50 Bayard Street in Williamsburg. This area has been dubbed locally as “Karl Fischer Row.”
The New York Times, in a 2005 article headlined “Williamsburg Reinvented” labeled Fischer and his 130-unit luxury Gretsch building as vanguard to the areas growth. The Real Deal, a New York Real Estate tracker, has declared “As Brooklyn grows, so does architect Karl Fischer.”
His interest in Brooklyn and the integrity of its neighborhoods isn’t arbitrary. According to Fischer, there are deep and strong ties between the Jewish communities of Montreal and New York. Consequently, he is tied to both communities. Fischer, who received architecture degrees from McGill University in 1971 and 1972, established his Montreal practice in 1984 and his New York office in 1999. Today, he estimates about 80 percent of his commissions are for New York projects. His output in his home country includes such luxury condo projects as The Gillette Lofts and Le Themis in Old Montreal.
Given the historic nature of many of the communities he works in, it comes as no surprise that Fischer emphasizes appeal and functionality of structures, and that they blend seamlessly in their surroundings.
In a statement of his design principles posted on his website, Fischer further notes that his style stems from an intuitive understanding of the use of space. Fischer is inspired by the beauty of structures that are adaptable and functional without being ostentatious.
In an interview with The Real Deal, it is noted that Fischer, after designing hundreds of luxurious condos in trendy neighborhoods, himself lives in a sensible 900-square-foot pied-a-terre.
While skylights and picture windows do flood the apartment with light, the reporter said, the overall impression is one of simplicity and functionality. A lifestyle choice that, on second thought, makes sense. Designers many times must dip themselves in simplicity within their own living environment as a balance to their more creative works.
For Fischer (who says he drives a Volkswagen and has no need for a BMW) this a correct analysis.
“I don’t feel comfortable with luxurious things. It is just my nature. I like basic stuff,” he told The Real Deal. While the end-users of his projects are more likely to be enamored of the luxury, some of that sensibility does in fact influence his work for clients. This is particularly the case with his emphasis on natural light and attractive views. Fischer stated, “Whenever I design buildings, I am very conscious of where the light is coming from and where the views are. . .” Fischer concluded, “I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist architect, but I don’t like flowery or dressed-up places—I like the space, the light, or the view to speak for itself.”
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