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Thinking out of the box keeps developer rounded.

There is an intriguing bit of information in Douglas Durst's official biography which states that, in addition to studying economics at the University of California at Berkeley in the mid 60s, Durst also learned the ins and outs of civil disobedience.

While it might be hard to find someone at Berkeley--one of the collegiate epicenters of social activism--who didn't participate in demonstrations during the height of the Vietnam era, a picture of a young, smiling, wild-haired Durst standing side-by-side with his father, Seymour, posted on the Durst Organization's website, seems to cement the notion that he is an unconventional developer. Is it true?

When I posed him with the question, Durst only smiled and lifted his foot above the table in the conference room at the firm's headquarters at 1155 Avenue of the Americas, revealing sneakers crafted from Lycra and loud red and black striped socks, both of which stood in stark comparison to his suited figure.

His relaxed attire is by far not the greatest mark of his maverick status however.

Rather it is the type of buildings that he chooses to develop that have distinguished Durst as both unique and at the forefront of real estate development.

An avowed environmentalist, Durst has managed to add to his already lofty reputation as one of Manhattan's most successful real estate magnates an impressive track record of environmental stewardship.

The Durst Organization's latest development, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, will serve as perhaps the greatest example yet of this amazing fusion that Durst has managed to strike between function, efficiency and form.

Now just a large pit with construction crews working busily on the foundation and with the thin brick and stone facade of the Henry Miller Theater propped on the site's northwest corner, One Bryant Park will, in just a few years, be home to one of the most high-tech and energy-efficient buildings in the world.

It will use rainwater to flush the building's toilets and the structure's nearly uninterrupted glass sheathing will use daylight to maximum effect, both of which are features that will halve the building's energy and water consumption.

Additionally, the building will use more efficient HVAC and water filtration systems and will provide far better air quality to its tenants.

The building is an appropriate neighbor for 4 Times Square, another Durst development landmark for its advances in energy efficiency that was constructed in the late 90s. That building has two 400-kilowatt fuel cells that convert natural gas into electricity in a chemical process that yield as a byproduct only water vapor and carbon dioxide. The building also uses solar panels to generate limited amounts of electricity.

According to Durst, One Bryant Park will utilize to even greater effect such innovations and it is his hope to earn a platinum LEEDS certification for the building, the highest distinction for energy efficient design.

Having brought ecologically conscious buildings to the forefront, Durst explained that he has to sometimes carefully choose the words he uses in describing his philosophy of building design to some prospective anchor tenants and investors.

"Why would you not want to build something that was good for the environment?" Durst said. "But despite the seemingly obvious answer, I find that either people get the environmental thing or they don't get it.

"So I like to call this kind of design "intelligent" design with the implication that all other designs that are less concerned with efficiency and the impacts they have on the environment are 'unintelligent.' People understand that kind of wording more readily."

An avid sportsman throughout his life and a part owner of the largest organic farm in New York, Durst has long had "a love of the outdoors and a sense of responsibility for, preserving and protecting the environment. But it, was a gradual process before he could fully begin applying his convictions to the business of development.

Before he ascended to the helm of the family-owned Durst Organization from his father Seymour and his uncles, Roy and David, Durst and his cousin, Jody Durst, began practicing their desire for more energy efficient design by retrofitting the firm's existing buildings with better ventilation and heating systems.

"Jody and I agreed that, when we got the chance to build buildings from the ground up, we'd do it the right way," Durst said.

It took some time before Durst got the chance to realize the grand designs that he envisioned could eventually stand out in the Manhattan skyline not just for their height or aesthetics, but their technological innovation and clean working environment for tenants.

Patience was fortunately a virtue he picked up from his father, who foresaw the rise of Times Square and planted a seed for the Durst Organization's prolific development there by buying portions of the land where the Bank of America is being constructed as far back as 1967.

"My father had incredible vision and patience," Durst said. "It was fantastic to learn from him. His idea of a great day was to walk the streets of Manhattan and look at all the buildings. He could name the developer and architect of every single one of them, his knowledge was just unbelievable."

Joseph Durst, Douglas Durst's grandfather, founded the Durst Organization in the early 1900s and quickly spun the business into a major enterprise. Joseph had three sons, Seymour, Roy and David who joined their father in the business and helped it become a multibillion-dollar company and one of the biggest development firms in New York.

While a lofty position within the firm was at his fingertips, Durst said that he initially wasn't interested in the family business and wanted to pursue a career in government instead.

"But I met my wife, Susanne, and we had kids, so I started working in the business and kept getting more involved," Durst said. "I'm happy I made the choice."

Durst has been a valuable addition, realizing by far the firm's most striking and ambitious developments. His children, Anita, Alexander and Helena, who have entered the business as well, have helped inspire his pioneering ideas for energy efficient and environmentally friendly design.

"Coming from a family business, you have a different perspective on the future," Durst said. "You understand how important it is to leave your children with something and to help preserve the environment for them. This is a style of design that they're going to continue and hopefully it will become standard in the city and elsewhere.

"My father and my grandfather always thought ahead and gave the family so much. I want to do the same."
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Title Annotation:TITANS OF THE INDUSTRY: Douglas Durst, Chairman, The Durst Organization
Author:Geiger, Daniel
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 20, 2005
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