Real Estate

New York ‘Architect’ Says He Never Saw Plans for 642 Feet Tall Building

Amid the glittering geometric towers that dot the Manhattan skyline, the lodge on eleventh Avenue in Hudson Yards was designed to face out. At 642 toes tall, the constructing soars above the Hudson River, that includes jagged units of floor-to-ceiling home windows that shimmer within the solar.

To all outward appearances, Warren L. Schiffman, who’s in his mid-80s and retired, was the architect of report on the project. His skilled seal and signature have been stamped on its design and people of two different large-scale tasks in New York City, a lodge close to La Guardia Airport and twin high-rise residences in Queens. All share the identical developer, Marx Development Group.

But Mr. Schiffman mentioned he had no lively position in these tasks, a press release that raises questions on whether or not the buildings have been permitted for building with out the oversight and involvement of a registered architect — a requirement in New York State to make sure that buildings are correctly designed and don’t pose a security threat.

A doc obtained by The New York Times exhibits Mr. Schiffman’s credentials have been used to faux his approval of constructing designs that he didn’t evaluate.

The doc, a four-page contract addressed to Mr. Schiffman on company letterhead, exhibits that when Mr. Schiffman retired in 2016 from Marx Development Group, he signed an eight-point settlement with its chief government, David Marx, detailing how the company’s design agency, DSM Design Group, might proceed to make use of his seal of approval despite the fact that he not labored there.

Developers can spend a number of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} on architect charges for huge tasks. In change for using the seal, nonetheless, Mr. Schiffman obtained quarterly funds from the developer that have been considerably decrease than the norm.

The contract was signed simply earlier than the Marx Development Group launched into three giant developments in New York City, together with its highest-profile project so far, the Hudson Yards lodge. It known as for Mr. Schiffman to “provide your architectural stamp and signature to the DSM Design Group when requested” and to make “best efforts to respond within 48 hours of any request for such service.”

Mr. Shiffman mentioned in an interview he was by no means requested to evaluate any constructing plans.

Building professionals in New York City mentioned that the allegations involving Mr. Schiffman have been extremely uncommon.

“Oh, my, goodness gracious, that’s a new one,” mentioned Steven Zirinsky, the co-chairman of the Building Codes Committee on the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “Now what’s going to happen with these buildings — who’s watching the store?”

Officials on the metropolis’s Department of Buildings mentioned they didn’t discover any structural defects within the plans for the Hudson Yards lodge, which remains to be below building. Department records show that it reviewed the plans 5 occasions between 2018 and 2020, after they have been in the end permitted. The lodge close to La Guardia was accomplished in 2019, whereas the high-rise residences in Queens haven’t been permitted but.

The division barred Mr. Schiffman from submitting constructing plans in December, a spokesman mentioned, after it realized that “someone may have fraudulently re-registered him with the state and filed plans without his knowledge.” The spokesman declined to elaborate.

An addendum to Mr. Schiffman’s settlement with Mr. Marx, which they each signed in June 2016, required Mr. Schiffman “to maintain his professional license in good standing for the foreseeable future.” In the contract, Mr. Schiffman’s former employer agreed to reimburse him for the persevering with training programs essential for renewing it. The contract could be legitimate so long as “you continue providing your architectural stamp and signature,” it mentioned.

In return, Mr. Schiffman would obtain $175,000 in funds over greater than a decade — $50,000 by means of the tip of 2016 after which $12,500 yearly till 2027, distributed in quarterly funds, in line with the doc, which has additionally been obtained by state investigators.

That association imploded final month.

As a part of an investigation by the state’s Department of Education, which oversees skilled licensing, Mr. Schiffman admitted that he had practiced structure when he was not licensed to take action. Under state legislation, the “unauthorized practice” of structure can embody practising with out a license or “permitting, aiding or abetting an unlicensed person to perform activities requiring a license.”

The Department of Education Board of Regents accepted Mr. Schiffman’s forfeiture of his license at a meeting in May.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Schiffman mentioned he gave up his license due to his age and denied that he had admitted to state investigators that he had practiced the career when he was not licensed to take action.

He additionally denied that he had an settlement with Marx Development Group, although he later acknowledged in the identical interview that he had the contract in his possession, learn aloud a number of strains from it and conceded he nonetheless obtained funds from the developer.

“Yeah, I still get quarterly payments,” Mr. Schiffman mentioned. “He owed me money for years.”

Architecture licenses are legitimate for three years in New York State and require candidates to finish 36 hours of programs earlier than they can be renewed. Mr. Schiffman mentioned he had renewed his license after he retired, but additionally mentioned he had by no means taken the programs and that he had been corresponding for months with the state company about surrendering his license.

“I stopped practicing five years ago, and if anyone says I was, they are lying through their teeth,” mentioned Mr. Schiffman.

Mr. Marx didn’t return quite a few calls and emails in search of remark. He has been a developer for greater than 30 years, in line with his online biography, and owns a number of different firms, together with a building agency and the design agency that employed Mr. Schiffman.

Marx Development Group has developed greater than 4 million sq. toes of actual property, together with a Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. And the development agency owned by Mr. Marx, Atria Builders, has constructed greater than 40 tasks, in line with the businesses’ web sites. Mr. Marx’s firms have spent lots of of 1000’s of {dollars} in recent times lobbying metropolis officers over their tasks, metropolis information present.

In the world of structure, knowledgeable seal is tantamount to a sworn oath by the architect that the work meets the best skilled requirements of security and integrity. The Office of the Professions, a division of the state’s training division that oversees licensed professions, likens it to “giving expert testimony in a court of law.”

While it’s not unusual for lower-level architects in companies to work on tasks that in the end bear the seal of the group’s senior architect, that apply just isn’t performed with out the senior architect’s data and supervision.

And whereas architects draft the designs, different licensed professionals, corresponding to engineers, are additionally concerned to make sure buildings are structurally sound. In New York City, there may be one other layer of oversight too. The Department of Buildings reviews construction plans earlier than work begins to verify they adhere to native constructing codes and zoning guidelines.

State licensing guidelines warn architects that it would be “unprofessional conduct” to affix their seal to paperwork that they’d not created or “thoroughly” reviewed. And it could possibly be thought of a Class E felony if a licensed skilled helped “an unlicensed person to practice a profession” or tried to “fraudulently sell” a license, the state says.

Registered architects and different licensed constructing professionals are often accused of wrongdoing.

In one of the crucial distinguished instances, a constructing designer close to Albany, N.Y., Paul J. Newman, was accused of practising structure with out a license, drafting constructing plans over a few years for buildings together with residential properties, a neighborhood for older residents and a jeweler’s retailer. He served about two years in state jail and was launched in 2019.

In that case, expenses have been introduced by the New York State legal professional basic’s office, which labeled the case “Operation Vandelay Industries,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to George Costanza, the “Seinfeld” character who pretended to be an architect and invented a job on the nonexistent Vandelay Industries.

The legal professional basic’s office mentioned it didn’t have an lively investigation into the case involving Mr. Schiffman, and it was unclear whether or not the Department of Education referred its case to prosecutors.

Throughout his 50-year career, Mr. Schiffman labored on quite a few tasks in New York City and throughout the nation, many for the Marx Development Group, together with Mr. Marx’s own residence on Long Island. He additionally designed nursing facilities, together with a $30 million facility that opened in 2012 in Brooklyn, which is owned by the company managed by Mr. Marx.

Mr. Schiffman mentioned he left behind a number of tasks that he had designed however weren’t full when he retired in 2016, however that they didn’t embody the Hudson Yards lodge or the Queens buildings.

But within the years after he mentioned he had retired, his title and stamp of approval began to seem on new constructing filings in New York City.

The first was in October 2018 for the lodge in Manhattan, when Mr. Schiffman’s signature appeared on a record filed with town’s Department of Buildings. It appeared once more as lately as June 2020, on a document detailing the outside dimensions of the lodge.

The lodge, anticipated to be a Marriott Aloft property, remains to be below building, and employees lately restarted putting in the outside home windows. A Marriott spokeswoman didn’t return a request for remark.

At the start of 2019, Mr. Schiffman’s seal was stamped on a diagram of Marx Development Group’s lodge close to La Guardia, a six-story constructing with 126 rooms. It is now being transformed right into a homeless shelter.

In response to neighborhood backlash in opposition to the shelter, a company managed by Mr. Marx, LGA Hospitality, hired the influential lobbying firm Capalino & Company to assist the developer obtain a certificates of occupancy from town, metropolis lobbying information present. Since 2021, Mr. Marx’s company has paid $113,000 to the group for its lobbying efforts at that web site.

Last summer time, Mr. Schiffman’s title appeared on paperwork for one other Marx Development Group project, side-by-side residential towers within the Flushing space of Queens. They could be across the block from a nursing middle owned by the identical developer.

Mr. Schiffman mentioned he was baffled as to how somebody might have used his seal, which he mentioned has been at his house on Long Island since he retired. Nowadays, nonetheless, an architect’s seal and signature may be utilized digitally.

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.

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