Kodem combines vision and skill to return art to its rightful place in our daily lives, bringing as much beauty to its developments as possible and adding depth to spaces that would be treated as disposable by most other developers. Company Founder and President Benjamin Sternthal shares with us his ideas on the art of development.
Based in Montreal, Québec, the company is prized for its creativity juxtaposed with leadership in development management of institutional, leisure resort and hospitality, commercial and industrial, and residential projects. Starting with a clear sense of direction and process, Sternthal has led with his indomitable spirit guiding his sense of how cities can and should be better.
He prizes a keen sense of placemaking. As a result, the company’s mandate is to establish meaningful spaces where families can grow into future generations who will have the privilege of enjoying the timeless art their great-grandparents’ generation had the good sense to create and leave behind for them—pieces of history that they are a part of and that form a part of them. “Ultimately, it is about creating spaces for people to create memories and for history to be formed and solidified into the DNA of a city,” he says.
Kodem’s Vice President André Miller agrees. A McGill University Architecture graduate like Sternthal, Miller has hands-on experience that took him through the field to where he is today. As a resilient leader with deep insight into project interests, Miller believes in establishing positive relationships, respect, and integrity to carry developments to their successful conclusion. “Developers, architects, contractors, and investors must work together to establish a culture of mutual respect, trust, and transparency,” he says.
The company’s work is woven into the streetscape and the very fabric of every city in which it builds. Bringing such intricate projects together, however, is another art in itself. As luck would have it, Director David Shabbat has a penchant for complexity and a knack for delivering big, complicated projects with finesse. With a multi-layered background and keen sense of detail contributing to his diverse skill set, Shabbat brings an extraordinary capacity for order to what, in reality, are high-stakes processes.
“The art of real estate development is like a puzzle,” he says. “Each piece must fit together perfectly to create a beautiful and cohesive picture. It requires a delicate balance of creativity, practicality, and collaboration.”
Respected designers like Yoo Studio inspired by Starck, California Closets, and Taschen feature in the company’s buildings, and many handpicked artists contribute their work, meaning that the Canadian and American art and artisanal worlds benefit from the team’s love of authentic skill. Some of the artists the company has commissioned on its projects include Neuf Architects, who were responsible for the spectacular spiral staircase in its Solstice project, a 337-unit, 44-storey condominium development on 1030 Rue De La Montagne, Montreal.
Internationally acclaimed Quebec ceramicist, Pascale Girardin, created a whimsical snowflake mobile sculpture, Efflorescence, representing the city’s first snowfall of the season. Girardin also created a water-themed mural out of twenty-five metres of mosaic work named Les Méandres in the same building. In addition, Girardin is working on new art bound for a number of the company’s new institutional projects.
Vanessa Harden and David Gardener of Wild Flag Studios were responsible for a piece called Immovable Sun, a six-foot sphere on display outside the Solstice building.
“These are not knock-off pieces; we pay real money for real art. It is art for the city. It becomes public domain, and every citizen can enjoy it,” Sternthal says. Another feature piece is Stéphane Leathead’s mind-blowing Exoset chair. This piece won several prestigious international design awards including the Milanese Golden A’ Design Award.
Other impressive projects out of the 300 Kodem has been responsible for so far include Hemisphere, a stunning development with 334 residential apartments in Pointe-Claire, Montreal, which breaks ground this year. The project gained a rare approval despite a no-new-development moratorium by the city, which the company achieved based on outstanding architecture and lasting quality.
Then there is the L’Hymne des Trembles with Groupe Brivia, a decadent fourteen-hectare development with 500 ski-in ski-out resort units on the southern slopes of Mont Tremblant. Since Sternthal began his career here, this project brings him full circle. “This was a project I looked at 25 years ago as an employee of Intrawest, and then you’re back at 53 to complete something you had started, which is cool,” Sternthal says.
Kodem was also responsible for the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) headquarters, which received LEED Silver certification and was delivered under budget and on schedule.
The Myst sur le Canal project, for Melki Living, of 143 condominiums on 2365 Saint-Patrick Street in Montreal, with its two buildings bridged by an infinity pool, is yet another key project. And beyond luxury condominium projects, the company has completed various schools, including Herzliah High School in Montreal, and all the local campuses of the Collège Charles-Lemoyne. Kodem also re-developed Stratton Mountain Commercial Village in Vermont.
But talent is directionless without a teacher. Sternthal ascribes much of his success as a designer and developer to Dr. Avi Friedman of McGill University, where he attained his master’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s degree in urban systems and geography. Teaching students what is perhaps the most important skill to be attained at university—to question well and never stop—Friedman opened Sternthal’s mind to look at design from unexpected angles.
It all began with being raised on a sensible diet of good food, loving discipline, and perhaps most importantly, books: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss; Peter Pan; and Lost in the Barrens and other works of Farley Mowat were all companions on his flights of imagination as a child.
“As a real estate developer, I believe in logic to create magic and to create my ‘Oz’ with my projects. I still believe in flight with the aid of wings and a motor!” Sternthal says.
It was this love of adventure that led a young Sternthal to attempt to execute an escape plan from a summer camp one year. Foiled as it was, he earned full marks for mettle and enthusiasm. “I grew up with a strong sense of wanting to explore uncharted grounds, from planning an escape route from summer camp to backpacking around the world,” he shares. “I was an explorer, collecting stamps in my passport, sailing the open seas, climbing mountains.”
It was this raw desire to explore that took him across the globe, trekking through Africa in search of new experiences that would, ultimately, one day drive what we now know as Kodem. “In The Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I saw a quote from a former Ethiopian leader that children must play because playing fosters dreams and dreams build nations,” he says of one of his most prized maxims.
Play also forms an integral part of the bond Sternthal has with his own children. “I love playing, especially with my two young children. It is here that my new ideas for development are born, amongst their ideas, their games, their dreams, and their sandcastles.”
Sternthal grew up in a home of artists and creative thinkers. “I was very fortunate to have a father who was a painter by hobby, a mother who played piano and loved ballet and the symphony, a sister who was professionally into the arts—all giving me an appreciation for what true creativity is—and a brother who specialized in international relations, global economics, and law,” he says.
As an adult, Sternthal, alongside his wife Julie Schneiderman, extends this warm sense of belonging and family to communities far and wide by encouraging everyone to contribute their skills toward providing and improving the quality of education, healthcare, and drinking water for more people under its grassroots initiative, Kulam. To this end, the company has done phenomenal work in East Africa, for instance, where, under Kulam, it raised USD 50,000 and donated its skills and services to establish the Shumargie and Goradera schools in Ethiopia.
Kodem remains a patron of the schools, ensuring that students have what they need to achieve an education and a good future. Under the Kulam banner, the Sternthals have even raised funds to provided cancer care for people in Ghana and have given much to ensure that communities have sufficient clean drinking water. The company also has an incredible new institutional school project, with a gym and community centre, up its sleeve.
As in Ayn Rand’s classic novel, The Fountainhead, men and women “of unborrowed vision,” make up the team at Kodem. “This frontier mentality—like in the song Telegraph Road by Dire Straits—of wanting to put my fingerprint on untouched territory drove me to be a unique developer creating my art of development,” Sternthal says with a smile.
By combining fine art with true quality and the time-honoured rules of the architectural discipline, the company continues to define its reasons for being in ways that serve not only the people who use its buildings but the broader communities that surround them. As a veritable David amongst the giants, Kodem may be small, but its capacity for drawing the impossible into reality is breathtaking.