Karl Fischer | Brooklyn structure
The prolific architect Karl Fischer, known for his ubiquitous, if sometimes critically planned, designs in Brooklyn, died last week. He was 70 years old.
Fischer opened his first architectural office in Montreal in 1984 and finally expanded to New York City in 1999. The company was most recently renamed into two companies, Fischer + Makooi Architects in New York and Fischer Rasmussen Whitefield Architects in Montreal.
His best-known works in New York include a 33-story apartment tower at 172 Madison Avenue, a 350-unit rental project at 101 Bedford Avenue, the Gretsch factory condominium remodeling, Schaefer Landing on Williamsburg Waterfront, and apartment buildings on Bayard Street known as “Karl Fischer Row”. Over the years, he has borne the brunt of the criticism that his work has sacrificed aesthetics for speed and cost. In 2011, the New York Post named him “New York’s Most Despicable Architect.” Even so, he was repeatedly hired by developers, making him one of the busiest architects in town. It was ranked 15th in The Real Deal’s most recent ranking of architects in the city, based on the scope of projects completed in 2018.
“They see negative criticism and try to learn from it and move on,” he told TRD in 2016. “When I get criticism, I look at the building and think, ‘Did I do my best?’ and sometimes the answer is no, but most of the time the answer is yes. “
David Maundrell of Citi Habitats, who marketed nearly 1,000 Fischer-designed homes, said the architect was unimpressed by the criticism. He noted that much of the opposition was likely due to an aversion to development in general, as Fischer’s designs played a role in the transformation of Williamsburg.
He said Fischer had built a “loyal fan base” of developers who were attracted by his work ethic and efficiency. The architect also placed emphasis on the interior of a building, Maundrell said.
“Karl had a general understanding of how to create habitable apartments. Not every architect does that, ”he said. “Karl worked from within. The interior was not compromised by a pretty facade. “
The architect Gene Kaufman, who worked with Fischer on a few projects and even lent him a desk in his office when he first learned the ropes of work in New York, called him a “developer architect.” He said Fischer built a customer base largely through word of mouth, as customers – many within the Orthodox Jewish development community – endorsed his work. Kaufman reiterated that Fischer had a talent for designing rooms in residential buildings.
“He got a lot of work and I don’t think it was just a coincidence,” said Kaufman.
Fariba Makooi, who took over Fischer’s New York office in 2017, said Fischer was skilled at working within the many constraints inherent in designing in the city.
“Karl was very conscious of what was in the best interests of the end user,” she said. “He worked tirelessly [to ensure] that the layouts were something people wanted to live in. And that really is his legacy. “
He died in Vermont on March 12, according to an obituary posted on the Goss Funeral Services website. He is survived by his wife Pamela and their two children and three grandchildren. Sometime in the spring, a private memorial will take place in Montreal.
“Whether he was driving the tractor, designing a luxurious tree house for his granddaughters or cutting through the deep snow on his cross-country skis, Karl was never happier than when he had a long list of tasks to do,” says the obituary. “If he wasn’t fixing anything or chopping something off, you could cycle him through the Green Mountains, snowboard Jay Peak, fly his plane or climb Kilimanjaro.”