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The Architect

When he's not jetting off to Africa, to oversee an American-style hospital his architecture firm is designing, 82-year-old Bernard Rothzeid is back in New York, sketching, brokering new deals, and breaking bread with clients.

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Bernard Rothzeid has been traveling a lot lately. At 82, you might think his recent globetrotting is just another case of a retiree with too much time on his hands and too many places to see. Not so with Rothzeid. Two times in October, the octogenarian architect headed to Abuja, Nigeria's capital city, for site visits as part of his work on an American-style hospital his firm is designing there.

"All my friends are retired," Rothzeid says. "But what would I do with my time? Why should I give up doing something I like to do?"

Rothzeid still helps run Rothzeid Kaiserman Thompson and Bee, the architectural practice he founded 44 years ago. The Brooklyn native plays an integral role in greeting potential clients and selling them on his firm, and he is also a main contact when miscommunication between an architect and a client disrupts a job. And although he has turned over the "design hat" to one of his partners, he still designs some projects, opting for hand-drawn sketches over computerized drawings.

"There's something very beautiful about a well-crafted drawing," Rothzeid says. "You don't get it with a machine drawing."

A graduate of MIT, Rothzeid ran his practice solely for about a decade. Today, he and two partners steer a company out of their Manhattan headquarters, which boasts 30 employees and about $5 million in revenue. He works out of the office at least three days a week.

"My partners and I wanted to grow the business at a measured rate," Rothzeid says. "You can make whatever strategic plans you want to, but it's also who you know and what you know."

Those contacts, which Rothzeid has made over nearly half a century, are a big reason why his company continues to build upon its already impressive portfolio. In the 1970s, Rothzeid's company "sort of wrote the book on adaptive reuse," he says, designing and planning the conversion of an industrial loft building on East 46th Street into the 26-story Turtle Bay Towers apartment complex. He also counts upgrades and renovations to the famed New York City Center theater complex to his credit.

And now, RKTB will sketch the initial drawings for what will eventually become a 200-bed American-styled hospital and medical school in Abuja. The New York-based Nigerian doctor who dreamed up the idea hired RKTB on the spot after touring with Rothzeid the pediatric unit at Brooklyn's Methodist Hospital, which Rothzeid's firm also designed.

"My bringing in business has always been on a personal basis," Rothzeid says. "I don't make cold calls. I will not make cold calls. But enough people think enough of me to give work to the firm."

For the most part, Rothzeid does not sound like a man who's anywhere near ready to leave his professional life behind him. Still, he has agreed to a three-year transition period starting in January, in which his title will shift from partner to consultant. The pseudo-retirement will provide him with more time to spend with his family and his three favorite hobbies: reading, gardening, and painting. He's just not sure he's ready for it.

"The plan to phase me out? I'm still a little reluctant about it."

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Last updated: Nov 1, 2007




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