Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Daniel D’Agostino, AIA of Plan ArchitecturePosted: February 25, 2018
Who is Daniel D’Agostino, AIA?
Dan D’Agostino is an architect with over 15 years of experience as an architectural designer and project manager.
Mr. D’Agostino has extensive experience working on projects of varying scales. His portfolio of work ranges from new and renovations to single-family dwellings to high-rise mixed-use buildings in dense urban areas. Mr. D’Agostino’s work has been recognized for achievement on multiple levels. Winning an AIA Gold Medal for a mixed-use structure designed for Lower Manhattan, recurring appearances on NBC’s George to the Rescue and achieving the coveted “Best Of” award on Houzz.
Daniel received his Bachelor of Architecture Degree from the New Jersey School of Architecture at NJIT where he continues to serve as a visiting critic. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Little Falls Planning and Zoning Board and Little Falls Economic Development Committee. He is a licensed Architect practicing in Northern New Jersey. In his free time he enjoys being the best father and husband he can be, golfing and playing music.
About Daniel’s firm:
planarchitecturellc is a full-service design firm which specializes in producing innovative client-driven program-based architectural design and budget appropriate problem solving.
Founded by Daniel D’Agostino, AIA, planarchitecture’s mission is to arrive at client and site specific architectural solutions to unique client demands. The firm produces work for public, commercial and residential clients.
You can find Daniel Online by clicking on the following links:
When and why did you decide to become an Architect?
I found drawing to be a great pastime as a kid. I also enjoyed building with my father. Inspired by curiosity, I always wanted to find ways to make things better. Design happens to be a way of making things better. Architecture seemed like a natural fit for me.
What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?
Becoming an architect in general is a challenging process. While I’m patient with people, I’m not always so patient when it comes to progress. I like to see things getting done, movement and motion. Five years of schooling, 3 years of internship, 7 months of licensing, in the middle of a recession was challenging.
Any memorable clients or project highlights?
Each project has a stand out moment. The best moments occur when we are a part of the building process and able to walk a project with a client and discuss additional opportunities.
How does your family support what you do?
I am lucky to have a very supportive family. Architecture is a big part of our lives. We just had the amazing opportunity to design and build our own home so design is very much a part of our daily conversation. Prior to that, we would travel to see buildings, stop on a walk to discuss a building material. Dining experiences are typically accompanied by a short analysis of how things might have been better.
How do Architects measure success?
I think Architects are an odd bunch if I may say so myself. As such, it’s hard to generalize. For me, if I’m happy – I am successful. Some of the things that make me happy related to the profession are having the time to do something creative or inventive. Having a staff meeting where everything gels. Client meetings that end in laughter, hugs and an optimistic plan for advancing a project. Discussion with a contractor where we walk away saying – this is going to be amazing!
What matters most to you in design?
Function, daylight and views. Each of our projects start and end with how the plan works, how we experience daylight and what we see both internally and externally along a view corridor.
What do you hope to achieve over the next 2 years? 5 years?
I enjoy single family design and construction. Over the last two or three years, we have designed a number of medium density residential developments. I discovered that we were able to bring a neat little twist to this market that isn’t commonly found in these developments. Our attention to detail and space making is needed in these larger projects. I hope that in 5 years, we are doing a lot more of this.
Who is your favorite Architect? Why?
It’s a toss up – Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Kahn.
As an architect, saying you like FLW is like saying you like the Beatles. I mean, the Beatles are mainstream, have a ton of hits, and reinvented themselves multiple times over the years. FLW did the same thing. His work is accessible and always delivers. If you dig deep and learn about why his buildings look the way they do (sustainability, economics, desire to build cheaply, wartime rationing, etc.) they are amazing.
Louis Kahn, on the other hand, not so mainstream and certainly not so accessible. His buildings manage to be incredibly complex yet simple. Having traveled the world looking at architecture, the Salk Institute was my greatest experience. When you walk that plaza, it’s an actual experience.
Do you have a coach or mentor?
Not really. I’m a pretty good listener and observer. If you keep your antennas up, you are going to learn a lot.
What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?
The Pantheon in Rome is my favorite historic work. It is structurally significant. The sun is used as a light fixture in the building charting messages. It’s all encompassing. The Salk Institute is my favorite contemporary project due to its connection to site. A strong axis of symmetry and orientation with the horizon. It’s breathtaking.
Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?
I see the profession going more toward design-build. There’s a lot of waste in the profession. It’s impossible to get every single detail included in a set of plans if you are trying to adhere to an architectural budget and short timeline. In New Jersey, the cost of land and taxes are so high, there is hardly ever an opportunity to draw every single detail and review it with your client. The industry has therefore come to accept (through demanding) a set of plans for base building, and finer elements being decided by the builder. As this process has evolved, we have come to see many features lost because original design intent isn’t considered. It will also help to minimize the number of projects that come in “over budget”.
What type of technology do you see in the design and construction industries?
I think modular still has a chance. When I was leaving college, modular was the new thing because it was faster and cheaper. Over time, it turned out, modular wasn’t exactly faster, or cheaper. We should pay attention to modular building with an emphasis on trying to work aesthetic into it.
Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?
Walt Disney. We need to make sure our buildings work functionally but we also want to be entertained while being part of an experience. Disney was great at this.
Which building or project type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?
I’d like to do a New York City high rise on the West Side. Growing up in Hudson County, New Jersey, the New York skyline was a big part of my childhood. I drive down a street and see projects I designed going up or completed and you feel a sense of pride and permanence. I’d like to have that feeling looking at the skyline.
How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?
Our office consists of 10 people, 9 of which are designers. I constantly put forward that our job is to help our clients and serve them. Listen to them and find the best way to deliver that which they are requesting.
What advice would you give aspiring architects (K-12)? College students? Graduates?
I started working as a Sophomore in High School at an architecture firm. I would recommend it. It gives you an opportunity through college to understand “how” you might use what you are learning. I would recommend college students get involved in outreach. Get involved in your local community and start planting seeds for future networking opportunities. Can you join the planning board? Is there a historical society you can join?
For Graduates, it’s going to sound funny but go work at a restaurant as a server. You are going to learn how to interact with people, understand how a person asks for something they need either verbally or with body language. You’ll learn how people feel comfortable by studying where they ask to sit, the way they face, how they talk to one another. You’ll learn about working in a tight space in the Kitchen and the importance of efficiency and flow.
I was lucky – I learned how to speak Spanish working a restaurant while working with the Kitchen staff. This has proven to be invaluable as the two predominate languages spoken on a job site are Spanish and English. I am able to converse in both languages. While sad, it’s worth noting that when I graduated from college, I made more money as a weekend waiter than I did as a full time draftsman. It helps to have money.
What does Architecture mean to you?
Simple, a place to be comfortably protected from natural elements.
What is your design process?
My design process starts with the site. From there, I sit with my clients and I start designing with them. I’m not the type that comes to my single family residential clients with plans for how they should live. With my larger development work, we analyze the site to maximize efficiency and density.
If you could not be an Architect, what would you be?
I couldn’t imagine myself being anything else.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to work on a stage set. Loose some of the parameters of gravity, building code, weather resistance to create an environment.
What advice do you have for a future Executive leader?
Surround yourself with great people in all aspects of your life and consistently invest in yourself.
What are three key challenges you face as a leader in business today and one trend you see in your industry?
As a business leader, I find staffing challenging because we are a service industry – not just design and construction so personnel is the most important. You can get anyone that meet’s your qualifications. You can also get anyone with a good personality. Getting them both isn’t always the easiest. When you do you, do everything you can to keep them. Balancing the administrative elements of the business while maintaining your service qualities is a challenge. I was only able to find success here after hiring administrative personnel. When I started the business five years ago at 29, fresh out of a recession, no portfolio of work and competing against other architects more than double my age was a challenge. We’ve now developed an impressive resume to support my interview process, however being the “young” architect seems to rear its head. I try to convince people, it’s not the number of years you’ve been doing it, rather the number of years you’ve been doing it right. The trend now is the integration of internet design.
What one thing must an executive leader be able to do to be successful in the next 3 years?
Develop patience and resilience which has no regard for timeline. Patience, as I stated earlier, wasn’t one of my virtues. Everything takes time. Resilience is important because the highs are way up there and the lows – we don’t talk about them.
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?
As the world of business continues to morph, our industry has stayed the same in principal. We have to be flexible in how we deliver information. A BIM model isn’t always the answer, sometimes a sketch to be texted out in 20 minutes is more important. We also have to remember, architecture is a business. The more successful firms know this.
Final Thoughts on How to Be Successful?
Surround yourself with great people. It starts with family and follows through staff, clients, contractors. Work as hard as possible. While it’s important to get your sleep and rest, you still have to write that extra email or do that extra sketch. Go that extra mile, especially when it may not be needed or no one may be watching.
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