Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Tim Witzig of @PKSBArchitectsPosted: February 1, 2018
This week we have a great interview with Tim Witzig. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim this year and we had a lengthy conversation. I think you will be impressed with his take on the world of architecture and design.
About Tim Witzig
Tim Witzig, AIA, Principal at PKSB Architects, is known for his breadth of understanding. He has played an instrumental role in the success of PKSB for almost two decades.
Mr. Witzig has overseen teams for numerous projects. His experience includes, public and private schools, religious spaces, residential interiors, personalized homes, commercial interiors and a history of projects with civic importance. He served as a designer and Project Manager for the interior renovations of the AIA award-winning Franklin, Mansfield and Shoreham Hotels in New York City.
He was responsible for directing fabrication for guest area upgrades, interior elements and furnishings for all three hotels. Mr. Witzig has also participated in the design and construction administration of the Physics Building Addition and Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Research Building at the University of Virginia, refurbishments for the Joseph E. Seagram Company in New York, and customized hotel resort interiors for the Walt Disney World Company. Prior to joining PKSB in 1990, Mr. Witzig was a designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with a team developing the first designs for Worldwide Plaza at Columbus Circle. His participation in designing and managing projects with various scales, local code requirements, and unique technical requirements has brought Mr. Witzig a broad understanding of the challenges our client’s face in realizing a project.
About the Firm
PKSB Architects was established in 1964 by Giovanni Pasanella. Celebrating over 50 years in practice, PKSB is recognized as an award-winning full-service firm with a long history of completing projects of every scale and scope. Our practice areas include academic, preservation, institutional, residential, hospitality, public housing, infrastructure, public art, civic memorials, and houses of worship. PKSB’s efforts have been recognized with numerous design awards, including the prestigious P/A Award and AIA honors on the local, state and national levels.
While PKSB’s practice has evolved since its first years as Pasanella + Klein Stolzman + Berg, a commitment to architecture that blends artistry, craft, and pragmatism has always defined its work. The firm has a modernist foundation, but does not rely on a set “PKSB style.” Rather, the needs of the client come first, and PKSB’s strength lies in its ability to create solutions that respond to the unique aspects of each client, program, and location.
“Since its founding in 1964, PKSB has distinguished itself as an innovative practice whose projects combine artistry, craft and pragmatism. A spirit of collaboration and a willingness to explore have been the hallmarks of the firm since its inception.”
When and why did you decide to become an Architect?
High School age. Seemed to encompass all my interests when I listed them. Before those years I wanted to be a Disney Imagineer.
What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?
Math. Undergraduate math, calculus, trig were such failures. Cost of school, lived in a marginal neighborhood in St. Louis to keep my living costs low for a couple of undergraduate years. During grad school working during breaks, working in the library for a little cash in my pocket when I should have been in studio probably. The library that I worked in up at Columbia was the library devoted to library sciences…only… could not have been more boring.
Any memorable clients or project highlights?
Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945. She made me laugh… not right away. You got the joke on the way home in the re-telling. She wanted a beautiful new modern sculptural stair in her NY apartment renovation. I did not get to design the stair but I watched the process and helped do the drawings for the shell of the apartment. I learned a lot working with her, and helping make presentations and seeing how all talented people involved worked.
How does your family support what you do?
They listen to my ranting. Patiently.
How do Architects measure success?
I think, gladly, that measure is made on very large field. I think if one helps, no matter how small, to make a piece of the world a more beautiful or usable place with our buildings, cities, infrastructure… one is a success. If you enjoy it as well? Huge success.
What matters most to you in design?
Constructability, utility, timelessness, passing on inspiration to the users in some way.
What do you hope to achieve over the next 2 years? 5 years?
Focus and allow others to run with the balls.
Who is your favorite Architect? Why?
I do not really have a favorite, but if pressed on just the Architect part and not the human being part, then Frank Lloyd Wright. He achieved a very warm and approachable transcendence with his own style. If you look up Architect in the dictionary, it would not be wrong to see his picture there I think.
Do you have a coach or mentor?
A few. The founders of the Architecture firm I am a part of now, Henry Stolzman, and Wayne Berg would go day-by-day explaining the practice and business of Architecture. My current business partner Sherida Paulsen brings reality to my day dreams. Going way back to school days there was William B. Bricken and Leslie Laskey. The latter should me how you could live like a designer and get interested in everything.
What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?
That’s so hard there are so many on both ends. Villa Malaparte in Capri. and almost anything Louis Kahn did, Yale British Art, currently I keep looking at Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and their Kim & Tritton Residence Hall. Over and over I stare at that simple building. 2 story residential dorm building with no stairs or elevators inside. Genius.
Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?
I think it’s very exciting, and I think Architects or folks who know a thing or two about making buildings will be in high demand. I think the firms will get larger and folks within the firms will be specialized a bit more. I think Architecture as a defined terms will blur and blend into other things we use.
What type of technology do you see in the design and construction industries?
The 3D modeling and Building Information Modeling and ability to bring that up zoom in to look at all of the “guts” anytime and anywhere,, well it is already happening now and it should just get better and more fun. I would like to see a dose of A.I. in some of the mundane and complex tasks we do, like crosschecking current rules, zoning, codes, that come into play. I would like a computer programmer take a crack at developing a “ArchAI” program that will compile a basic building envelope and create a set of drawings just off say 10 basic inputs or dimensions you give it.
Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?
Which building or project type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?
I would love to work on a large community center or cultural icon like the 92Y (92nd Street Y)
How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?
You sit with them see what they are doing and ask questions? If there is something good there, progress or talent in a particular direction you help develop that and point them to something that they might find helpful or interesting based on the direction they are already heading in. You might point them in a direction where they might get un-stuck (if they share their sticking point). Then they come back and ask again. Then the mentoring kind of begins.
What advice would you give aspiring architects (K-12)? College students? Graduates?
Just keep swimming. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be afraid to fail.
What does Architecture mean to you?
Every time I get mad at it and curse it for being hard, or impossible it comes back, I see a beautiful building and I just think it’s great and there are so many talented people to watch and buildings to visit. I guess it’s just ingrained in there and I hope I can enjoy it as long as possible.
What is your design process?
That is a hard question. It really depends. But Testing and Tossing is such a big part. I used to say do not draw more in the first half of the day that you cannot erase in the second half. Of course we don’t have to spend time erasing anymore, so we have more time for flipping stuff on its head and seeing what can be gained. One tries to list, develop or articulate the restraints, constraints and guiderails first so you can get to the design phase. Then the Testing and Tossing begins. I still believe in the old fashioned pin-up in a room and let the criticism flow.
If you could not be an Architect, what would you be?
The animation thing I guess. It’s never too late to go to Hollywood. Yes it is I think.
What is your dream project?
The Museum of the Tour de France. It must have views and a fantastic café. And banks of Zwifting set-up’s with a huge High Def screens floating in front of real glazed views.
What advice do you have for a future Executive leader?
Help others succeed and then encourage and praise, daily if you can. Sit right across or next to someone at their desk for bit, avoid constant big meetings. Smaller ones. You do the leg work the big meeting might have made easier.
What are three key challenges you face as a leader in business today and one trend you see in your industry?
Technology costs, Marketing. Managing cash flow. I see a trend in larger firms as an umbrella with smaller brands below
What one thing must an executive leader be able to do to be successful in the next 3 years?
Listen, stay positive, learn how people do what they do.
What are some executive insights you have gained since you have been sitting in the executive leadership seat – or what is one surprise you have encountered as the world of business continues to morph as we speak?
Younger people are very creative in the way they work and use software. I think it’s important to “give in” and “give up” the ways one might have done something in the past. Even if those ways worked well before. Be willing to re-prioritize what you thought was important in how projects are realized and mananged.
Final Thoughts on How to Be Successful?
Keep a sense of humor, laugh and value irony along the way. Take some time to enjoy the journey and not just the finish line. Realize everyone one else is trying to do the same thing, and help whenever you can. Each client is a chance to learn something new.
We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post. We sincerely appreciate all your comments – and – if you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!