Bringing Design Home:
Architects as Developers Creating Value by Design


Barrett Design is an interdisciplinary firm that seamlessly blends its architectural expertise with a strong acumen for development to create some of the city’s most well-crafted structures. They have been building dynamic housing communities in Brooklyn since 2005, executing roughly one project per year. Now, the firm is expanding into other boroughs, taking its ability to develop thought-provoking buildings to other parts of New York City.

Alex Barrett, Principal, says the company’s dual nature allows it to produce a higher-caliber product than the conventional development structure, in which architects serve as independent consultants. “We really love it and think it produces a great finished product at the end of the day,” he says. “We like that we are developers who are designers first and foremost.”

4 Downing Street, Living Room

Value really gets added to a property through the design work

He began his design and development firm in 2005 after speaking with other architects who were also exploring the financial side of real estate development. “It’s still a relatively rare business model, which kind of surprises us,” he says. “We swear by it.”

“Value really gets added to a property through the design work,” Barrett says. “In the traditional development structure, where the architect is just a third-party consultant, they are not getting fairly compensated for the value they are creating.”

The dualistic business model practiced by Barrett Design allows the firm to wear multiple hats and approach design with a more budget-friendly mindset.

Eight St Mark's Place, Brooklyn, Entrance

“It makes the process of designing and developing real estate a lot more efficient,” Barrett says. “It forces us to be a lot more rigorous and a lot more disciplined because we know that whenever we draw a line that represents something that is going to get built, we have to pay for it.”

The model also drives better design. Thought-provoking, sleek and modern products define the firm’s work and its attention to detail.

440 Atlantic Avenue, Interior
Exterior Facade at 8 Downing St, Brooklyn

“In the end, we want to make sure that all the design decisions we make are really creating more value,” Barrett says. “It aligns the interests of the architect and developer in a way that they typically are not aligned.”

Barrett says that this approach leads to a high level of appreciation on the part of buyers.

“When a buyer walks into one of our projects as opposed to a comparable project by another developer that is not architect-led, they will feel something in our project that’s missing in others—a strong focus on quality design,” he says.

Eight St Mark's Place, Brooklyn

Barrett shared his thoughts on several recent and upcoming projects. Eight St. Mark’s Place will bring 14 units of residential to Boerum Hill, one of Brooklyn’s most dynamic neighborhoods on one of the neighborhood’s busiest thoroughfares.

“It’s going to be very visible. Putting a new building where there has been a very nondescript, one-story commercial building for many years is going to have a pretty big impact on the neighborhood.”

In the historically significant Crown Heights neighborhood, the firm is repurposing a formerly underutilized lot and will create “a brand-new ground-up residential building which will be seven stories and 23 units,” says Barrett. “This will be our largest project to date.” It will include a rooftop lounge area with 360-degree views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines.

726 Park Place - Penthouse

The firm’s first foray into Manhattan sits at 3 East 3rd Street. “It’s in the Bowery, which has a really mixed and rich history,” Barrett says. “It’s very gritty, and has been kind of rough-and-tumble at times.” The firm drew design inspiration from the area’s compelling past.

“We tried to draw on the neighborhood’s history” he says. “We ended up with a building that has a lot of exposure and a lot of façade.” The six-story development will feature five residential units and a commercial space on the ground floor.

726 Park Place Exterior

The firm is developing two new single-family townhomes in Brooklyn at 96-98 DeGraw Street. “The townhome market in Brooklyn has been extraordinarily strong,” says Barrett.

“They will be ground-up, brand-new construction,” he says. In the Columbia Street Waterfront District “there have not been too many new townhomes constructed in this area for quite some time.” They are a unique undertaking for the firm, which has focused exclusively on multifamily projects in the past.

4 Downing St, Bedroom

The team at Barrett Design is just beginning, and looks to deliver an increasing number of high-caliber housing products in the years to come.

“It has been a great pleasure executing this business model,” Barrett says. “It would be impossible to imagine going back to the conventional structure.”

This piece originally appeared in the Winter Issue of the Design Develop Construct Journal.