Exclusive ILMA Interview with Kurt Kalafsky, AIA @KurtKalafsky

Architect Q&A:

When and why did you decide to become an Architect? 

When I was in HS I took some mechanical and architectural drawings classes (yes hand drafting) I really enjoyed it and the teacher encouraged me to pursue it further.

AZTEC Corp

Design and Photo provided by The Aztec Corporation/Aztec Architects LLC

What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream? 

Setting priorities and committing to a future profession is always challenging with all of the potential distractions on a college campus. I was working during all of my breaks and summer recesses and getting a lot of real office experience while attending Syracuse University. Syracuse was a very design focused school with very little thought put toward what we would actually be doing when we got out. After my third year I choose to transfer to NYIT Old Westbury. While still focusing on a high level of design, most of my professors were also practicing architects. I believe this balance of two very different types of education has helped me to become the Architect that I am today.

 Any memorable clients or project highlights? 

Every client and project is memorable it its own way, they are all unique with a different set of problems to solve. Ultimately that’s what an Architect is, a problem solver.

How do you balance design with your family life?

I value my family time very much. I get involved with my kid’s activities not just as a spectator but as a coach or a scout leader. I started coaching youth football while I was still in college and I was parents that just dropped their kids off and others that took a more active role. With very little exception, the kids that excelled were the ones whose parents showed an active interest in what their kids were doing. I learned a great deal about parenting dos and don’ts before I ever had children of my own.

Calatrava New York WTC Station

World Trade Center Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava Valls

How does your family support what you do?

They are my #1 fans and supporters. A little over 20 years ago my wife was pregnant with our first child, we just purchased our first home and I come home one day and tell her I want to quit my steady job and start my own firm with some friends. She was behind me one hundred percent and now we just celebrated the 20th Anniversary The Aztec Corporation and Aztec Architects LLC.
 
How do Architects measure success?

I can’t speak for all Architects, but I measure it by going to work every day and enjoying what I do. Constantly learning about the industry, business, how other businesses work, what makes people tick…

What matters most to you in design? 

Solving the clients problems and making their dreams a reality.

What are the challenges you face realizing your vision?

Getting to know who my client is and what their vision is. Understanding where they’ve been and where they what to go.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 20-30 years?

I don’t put any limits on my future, I guess I’m at a point where I enjoy working with younger people in our profession not only teaching them what I’ve learned but also learning from them.

Who is your favorite Architect? Why?

I have eclectic tastes in architecture, from Michelangelo to Frank Lloyd Wright to Bruce Goff to Richard Meier. I really enjoy architecture that brings nature into the design and reacts to the site and its surroundings regardless of who the designer is.

What is your favorite historic and modern project? Why?

I find the classic lines of St. Peter’s Basilica awe inspiring. The detail that went into it is truly amazing. I also love the Library of Congress in Washington DC, easily my favorite building in a city with so much great architecture. I’m also really enjoying watching the progress of Santiago Calatava’s new Transportation Center at the World Trade Center Site.

Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?

That’s going to be largely up to the next generation of architects to determine. We as a profession face many challenges and if we don’t stay at the forefront of today’s issues political, technology, business…. we will be left behind. We need to continue to show our communities the value that we bring to the table.

St. Peter's Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world"[3] and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom".

St. Peter’s Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world”[3] and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.

Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?

I believe that we are influenced by the totality of our life’s experiences. I don’t believe there is any one person, project or experience that has been life changing for me. I also think we need to keep an open mind to best serve our future clients.

How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?

Keep them excited about learning; if we stop learning we will have no value.

What does Architecture mean to you? 

Architecture is both a process and a result. The process of defining the clients’ problem or vision and the process of solving that problem to get the end result that they are looking for.

If you could not be an Architect, what would you be? 

I would probably do something outdoors with nature, maybe a park ranger or something in the field of wildlife management.

What is your dream project?

The next one.

You can follow Kurt M Kalafsky on Twitter: @KurtKalafsky.

The oldest of the three United States Library of Congress buildings, the Thomas Jefferson Building was built between 1890 and 1897. It was originally known as the Library of Congress Building and is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. The Beaux-Arts style building is known for its classicizing facade and elaborately decorated interior. Its design and construction has a tortuous history; the building's main architect was Paul J. Pelz, initially in partnership with John L. Smithmeyer, and succeeded by Edward Pearce Casey during the last few years of construction.

The oldest of the three United States Library of Congress buildings, the Thomas Jefferson Building was built between 1890 and 1897. It was originally known as the Library of Congress Building and is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. The Beaux-Arts style building is known for its classicizing facade and elaborately decorated interior. Its design and construction has a tortuous history; the building’s main architect was Paul J. Pelz, initially in partnership with John L. Smithmeyer, and succeeded by Edward Pearce Casey during the last few years of construction.

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Who is Wilford Raney “@BillyBadBird” – Over 1 Billion Views (Like McDonalds) #ProllyEvenMore

I have made a few “interesting” connections over the years and I am going to “expose” some of them to you. For my first “Exposé” I chose a special social media friend (or maybe he chose me).

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All photos taken by Wilford Raney.

I have been friends with Mr. Raney for quite some time now.  We first met on Twitter and are now connected throughout the web.  Wilford, or as I like to call him, Billy, is a unique fellow who I have come to admire because of his good nature and pleasant nature.  He becomes a friend to everyone he meets.  People from all over the world interact with “Billybadbird” (Billy’s Twitter handle on Twitter) on a daily basis.  Somehow he finds time for his fans and friends in between his daily routine of watching/feeding the birds, cleaning up the local beaches in Port Bolivar, Texas, and photographing the majestic scenes he encounters living next to the Gulf.

Raney’s parents moved back to Houston Texas right after his father finished serving in the air force in Bossier City (where Billy was born).   The family always spent summers and weekends at the beach.  Eventually, his mother and father relocated the family in the 70’s to, as he says, “get his children out of the city and away from drugs and temptation” but Billy seems to think that it was more a tactical decision. 

 “My father loves the ocean just as much as we do…  Once you get here it’s very hard to leave.”

Billy goes on to say:

“Our family has always loved birds…  My grandfather (also named Wilford Raney) left the city for the country after he retired.  He had a great big window in the great room and when he became bound to the wheelchair he spent his days in front of the window watching the birds.   It gave him great pleasure.   My mother believes in waste not want not – so everytime she cooked – all the scraps went outside to the birds.  That was a practice I continued when I moved into my little ocean front cottage — the birds started staying so I started cooking for them – the same as I do today —  I make rice cakes — twice a day — I cook 6 cups of rice – let it cool then turn it upside down on a plate –”

I asked Billy who has nearly 12K followers about when he started tweeting:

“I have been tweeting about two years — I don’t know how I started or why.” I only retweet people I follow who follow me –  I make very few exceptions to this rule-  and I have this rule be fair to people who promote me.  I am grateful for their support….  I am grateful for everyone’s support -but I also must remain fair to everyone.”


Anyone who knows Billy from Facebook, Twitter, or visiting his website knows that he has been through some tramatic experiences living on the coast.  He was weathered some difficult storms.

“We are in our third year without a storm —  this is making everyone nervous.  We average two a year – a few years back we had three hurricanes back to back.  The worst times for storms for us is August and September when the ocean is very, very warm — but some of the earlier seasonal storms hit us too.   Allison was a tropical storm that stalled for several and flooded Houston – Alicia was a hurricane – she really messed things up. My worst experience was Ike — I lost two homes and the property which now lies in the ocean.  I was trapped.  I almost died. We went 4 months without water and lights – the island was deserted. I stayed — I cannot leave.”

Billy recounted a typical day in Port Bolivar, Texas:

“I clean up the beaches for God and the birds.   One day I went outside to a seagull in my yard who had fishing line tangled in his wings.  He was scared of me but he needed help —  it broke my heart – I cried for many hours —  I had to trap him with a net but eventually I was able to save him —  the last thing before Ike — I kept seeing a pelican in front of the house — when he moved he was wobbling and tripping — I had to chase him in the ocean to catch him — he also was tangled in the fishing line — the hook was in his foot — I carried him to a neighbor — we cut him free and he flew away — then the storm came —  I will always remember that –  I clean up everything that can cause a bird his life —  prevention….. I wrote a poem about this.  We have about 1500 people year long – the island is 22 miles in the middle of the ocean —  you can only get here by ferry boat – probably 30 to 40,000 people come for holidays – maybe a whole bunch more — people are everywhere during the summer – winter is for us. Quiet
Peaceful – you can walk for miles on the beach and never see a soul.”

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