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Jun 20, 2017

Interview with Charles Diehl

Hosted by Nate Pfaff 

Charles Diehl got into architecture by way of physics and his interest in space exploration. He realized through that process that he was interested mostly in design and made the transition to architecture. He’s lived in Brooklyn for almost 20 years and recently bought a house in Bed-Stuy, which is where he currently lives with his family. His firm, Charles Diehl Architect, was established in 1999. Over the last few years, about 90% of his work is focused on renovation as opposed to new construction. The Brooklyn market has been primarily consumed by buying houses and renovating them, and that is where Charles’ expertise comes in.

He loves the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area, which is where his office is located. Brooklyn Roast on Flushing Avenue is his favorite coffee spot and Chez Oskar on Malcolm X Boulevard is one of his favorite restaurants in all of New York City. He’s been getting the most calls from the Bed-Stuy/Bushwick area over the past few years, which have seen incredible change. He describes East New York as heating up and ripe for development because of the upzoning that could reshape its infrastructure.

He recommends people looking for an architect to ask lots of questions and talk to multiple architects. He recommends not hiring the cheapest person out there because they may end up costing you more money in the end by not anticipating complications or billing you for things that were not made clear to you in the beginning. The best way to reach Charles is through email at or by phone at 347-280-3026.


[1:32-1:55] Intro: We have Charles Diehl of Charles Diehl Architecture. He has his architecture firm located outside the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. He lived in Brooklyn for almost 20 years and currently lives in Bed-Stuy, but he’s originally from South Carolina.

[1:55-2:25] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you specialize in? I’ve lived in Brooklyn since 1999 in Clinton Hill, Fort Greene area. I’ve also lived and worked there. I've worked for a couple of architects in residential development, commercial, and public types of work.

[2:25-3:03] What is your favorite area of architecture and how did you get into architecture? I got into architecture when I was in college doing physics and I was interested in aeronautical designs and space exploration. The design was more interesting to me than anything else and I ended up switching architecture from physics.

[3:03-5:07] What are the two most important qualities of a successful architect? You have to be extremely diligent and creative. Being creative doesn't necessarily mean in terms of design but you have to be creative in solving problems. There are a lot of problems that come up in the process that require creative solutions.

[5:07-7:00] Do you have specific examples of issues that might come up? When renovating, a lot of buildings have floor issues. Some of these houses are really old and we never know how much work will be needed to correct unseen issues when the walls are intact. Because of this, we have to be really cautious of our decisions. Do we have to replace the floor entirely or just do minor repairs? This is where creativity comes in.

[7:00-7:47] Approximately, what percentage of your work is renovation as opposed to new developments? Over the last couple of years, 90% of my work has been renovation work. The Brooklyn market has been about people buying real houses and wanting to renovate them.

[7:47-12:19] What are some of the most important questions you ask a client when you're hired to renovate? These seem pretty obvious but, what is your budget? This can’t be underestimated because there's a huge implication for the cost, timing, and design of the work. Simple requests like legalizing a basement apartment introduces a ton of regulatory issues. So it's important to understand why they're doing that.

[12:19-13:06] Stay in touch with the podcast by subscribing to the mailing list. Text Brooklyn to 66866.

[13:06-13:29] What’s your favorite area of Brooklyn? I still like Forte Greene/Clinton area because I lived there for 15 years. I also enjoy the local businesses there.

[13:29-14:20] Do you have a favorite restaurant or cafe in that area? The only restaurant they had in that area actually moved. Chez Oskar used to be my favorite but they now relocated to Malcolm-X Boulevard. Brooklyn Roast on Flushing Avenue happens to be my go-to place for coffee and pastries since it's located right down the street from my office.

[14:20-15:11] Which is the hottest place in Brooklyn that is getting the most attention and activity for your business right now? We’ve seen the most work in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick over the last 3, 4 years till now.

[15:11-17:51] Do you see any other neighborhoods taking over? East New York seems to be the next big thing because of the upzoning law. However, developers are somehow scared to invest in this area at the moment.

[17:51-19:58] What exactly does upzoning mean? The zoning specifies the floor area ratio, apartment density, and parking based on what the city planning has decided, from an urban planning standpoint, is best for that neighborhood.

[19:58-22:01] What advice would you give to someone looking to hire an architect? Ask lots of questions and try to make sure the answers you're given make sense. It’s also advisable to talk to several architects. Different architects have different ways of doing business. Some are more design-oriented and some are more technically oriented, some know building and zoning codes and some rely on outside consultants to provide those answers. Don't hire the cheapest architect out there. This might cost you more in the end.

[22:01-23:18] If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you do differently? I said earlier my original interest was in space exploration. I could never have predicted that space was going to be privatized the way that it has. If I had seen that coming, I’d have worked a lot harder to keep myself in that area of work in designing and trying to be a part of the development of human space exploration. This is going to be a very big industry.

[23:18-24:01] Do you see us colonizing Mars? I don’t know. I think the challenges to that are pretty high at this point. Getting a man to go there now is extremely difficult. I think it's possible but it's a matter of whether it's will or just a profit motive to drive private industry there.


Contact Our Guest:

Send Charles an email at

Give him a ring at 917-909-0214


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