It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of one of our global leaders. Our dear friend and colleague, Carl Ordemann, a pivotal member of the Perkins Eastman community, the architectural community, and the development community, passed away on April 24th after a brief illness.
“Carl was an invaluable member of our leadership team. He brought important skills and personal qualities that were critical to the growth and success of our firm,” says Chairman and Co-founder of Perkins Eastman Brad Perkins. “Carl and I talked often, and I could always count on getting his take on firmwide management issues. We were relatively close in age and had long careers with some significant similar experiences. Prior to joining us, he had been the managing principal of Perkins & Will New York—an experience I had had before setting up Perkins Eastman. Prior to Perkins & Will, both of us had managing principal experience with other firms. Thus, Carl felt it was appropriate for him to give me his brotherly advice when he thought I was not steering the ship correctly. He always did this very politely but firmly. It is one of the many things I will miss about Carl.”
“We are devastated; Carl was invaluable to the growth of our team. He left a lasting impact on the city and on the team he’s developed over the years,” says Co-CEO and Executive Director Shawn Basler.
“Carl’s impact was huge. Everybody he met knew who he was,” says Nick Leahy, co-CEO and executive director. “What I admired about Carl was his energy and his never-ending enthusiasm.”
Throughout his 45-year career, which included time spent with HLW, Perkins & Will, and the last 20 years with Perkins Eastman, Carl left an indelible mark on New York City and the surrounding region. He was a force of nature, and any endeavor to mention all of the projects he influenced would be difficult. While Carl led projects nationally and internationally, he was particularly active throughout the New York Metropolitan Area with dozens of major built projects ranging from The Orchard, which will be the tallest building in Queens when completed, Dock 72 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and major renovations at the New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations. He also garnered major projects in Newark, White Plains, Stamford, and other communities throughout the region. After joining the firm in 2003, Carl worked in almost every practice area, and he found new opportunities for us to collaborate with clients throughout the nation and abroad. The extraordinary pride he took in his work, and the great pride he had in his team, many of whom he mentored, were part of his character.
“Carl loved combining business with fun—especially if it involved time on a sailboat,” Perkins says.
As Carl liked to say, “When you’re on the water, nothing is more important than working together as a team. As in sailing, no one person can design by themselves.”
Carl loved architecture and the pursuit of new work. “If he caught a whiff of a potential project, he’d want to respond immediately. . . .His enthusiasm was infectious,” remembers Principal Robert Marino, who worked with him for 20 years. “Carl would often ask to meet the next morning at a new site about a potential project. Once, on the coldest day of winter, we met a new client at an empty building in Brooklyn filled with icicles that had formed from floor to ceiling like stalactites and stalagmites. That became a major new project.”
Principal Michael Lew concurs. “Carl and I have been partners for over 20 years. We discovered very early that we both were on the same page on almost everything we did.” (Coincidentally, they were both City College alumni.) “Carl had a passion for pursuing new work. I recall an interview with the United Nations. Right before we started, Carl gave me his sailing stopwatch and said to cut off anyone who exceeded their allotted time. Well, MJ (Mary-Jean Eastman, vice chair and co-founder of Perkins Eastman) was up first and Carl pointed to his watch. I told him that I wasn’t going make a career decision by cutting MJ off. Ends up we all hit our marks—within 5 seconds,” Lew says.
“Carl built and maintained long-term friendships with many clients, consultants, and members of the firm. Carl was passionate about serving his clients and leading his teams to respond to their needs,” Perkins says.
“Carl was all about keeping in touch—with everyone. His holiday card list was long and legendary,” says Principal Mark Creedon of the Stamford studio, which Carl managed for years, while simultaneously running the mixed-use and large-scale studios in New York City. “Carl had a select group email that he sent snaps to when he was away on his sailing trips. So, we’d all get to see the sights along with him,” says Nancy Cheung, senior associate and marketing manager, who created marketing proposals for Carl for the past 15 years.
Principal Chris Ernst, who worked with Carl for most of the last decade, says, “For Carl, being an architect and a principal at Perkins Eastman wasn’t just a job. Carl truly loved what he did. . . .He especially liked taking clients and team members to the New York Yacht Club, where he was a member. He loved giving tours of the landmark 1901 building, designed by Warren and Wetmore. He’d take you to the model room, where the club’s collection of over 1,200 ship models were displayed, the library and chart room, where they have thousands of volumes, artwork, and the club’s collection of nautical charts, and to the rotunda, where he would point out ‘that’s where the America’s Cup sat for 82 years—before it was lost,’ ” Ernst says.
Robert Selsam, principal of Selsam Company, LLC, knew Carl for at least 25 years, and sailed with him for the last 23. They and four friends took annual trips together. Their travels included sailing around Bora Bora, the Sea of Cortez, the Greek Islands, and throughout the Caribbean. “Even at sea, he was hard working, always checking the tides, currents, and wind. . . .He wasn’t shy about hard work, whether playing or working,” Selsam says.
“Carl was the architect for a half-million-square-foot warehouse conversion in Newark called ‘Ironside’ that is headquarters of Mars Wrigley,” says Selsam, who is also former senior vice president at Boston Properties. “It turned out beautifully.” He adds that Carl was also architect for The Orchard, an 800-foot-tall, mixed-use building for BLDG Management Co., Inc., just coming out of the ground on Orchard Street that will be the tallest building in Queens when it is completed in 2026.
“I met Carl 23 years ago. . . . Through conversation, I learned that Carl grew up not far from where I grew up in Queens. We became friends as well as business associates and had many lunches and dinners over the years—frequently at Carl’s yacht clubs,” says Melvyn Blum, former president of Vornado Development, who worked with Carl on several Vornado projects. “Carl was always creative and continuously kept me up to date on Perkins Eastman’s successful projects.”
Fred Harris, executive vice president of Vornado Realty Trust and former head of AvalonBay’s New York office, with whom Perkins Eastman collaborated for more than a dozen projects, is among Carl’s long-time clients and sailing friends, too. “Carl was a masterful sailor,” Harris says, adding that Carl had meticulously planned an upcoming trip to the Amalfi Coast. “Carl was our captain on numerous trips, we never hired a captain, but with his passing, we all said, ‘We’ve got to take this trip for Carl!’ We leave this Friday, May 5th, for a 10-day sail. We already have the boat reserved in Italy. None of us is willing to step in to be captain—we’re hiring a professional.”
“Carl spoke in nautical metaphors,” says Marino, who remembers that shortly after Carl joined Perkins Eastman, he shared a eulogy he was writing about a friend that began with lines from Walt Whitman:
O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Carl is survived by his loving fiancée, Susan (Suzy) Stewart; his son, Max Ordemann; his sister, Beth Werner, and her husband, Bob Werner; his nephew, Chris Werner; and his brother, Stephen R. Ordemann.
And though we’re losing a beloved colleague and friend, his legacy remains all around us: