Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Jeff Venezia, AIA of @DIGroupArch

Who is Jeff Venezia, AIA?

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Virginia and has practiced in New Brunswick since 1981. He is presently a Principal Owner and President ofDIGroupArchitecture, a 32 person firm specializing in K-12 Education, Higher Ed, Senior Living and Healthcare. He heads the design and marketing efforts of the firm as well as the Academic Studio which includes K-12 and Higher Ed.

About the Firm

DIGroupArchitecture is a process-centric architecture and design firm. We work tirelessly with our clients to understand their priorities, evaluate the physical and budgetary constraints, and communicate potential options. As a result we create distinctive design solutions that help our clients achieve their vision, with unwavering attention to detail at every scale.

It is our unbiased approach to scale that helps us evolve in the changing climate of contemporary architecture. As many of our clients’ priorities have shifted away from ground-up architecture to renovations and adaptive reuse, our interiors studio has flourished and our graphic design studio has developed a diverse portfolio of projects in environmental graphics, signage and wayfinding, and brand identity.

80% of our business comes from repeat clients.They appreciate our “whatever it takes” approach and principal involvement at every level of every project. Our goal is to make every client a “legacy” client doing project after project and improving the experience of those who occupy the facilities we have created together as partners.

         Memorial Elementary School

         Phillipsburg High School

         Remsen Ave. Firehouse

         Jonathan Dayton High School Media Center

 

Click to Follow the DIGroup: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

ILMA INTERVIEW

When and why did you decide to become an Architect?     

I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was about 12 years old.  I loved model building, drawing and construction and just knew from that time on what I wanted to be.

What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?

I think the biggest challenge has always been living up to the level of trust your clients place on you to deliver a project that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Any memorable clients or project highlights?  

Most clients are memorable in their own way.  Since a lot of our work is for repeat clients we get to know them extremely well over time, both professionally and personally.  The best highlights of any of our projects is the reaction of the end users as to how we’ve improved the quality of their everyday lives.  That occurs most often in our Healthcare, K-12, Senior Living and Community Rooms projects.  One of our top highlights was having our Memorial Elementary School in East Brunswick receive the 2013 AIA New Jersey Honor Award for Excellence in Design, the first NJ public school to be recognized with that award (see photos above).

How do Architects measure success?     

We measure success by how a project meets the goals established in the very beginning, especially with regard to program, design, budget and schedule.

Good design does not have to cost more – it requires patience and commitment to doing it right.

Grow the business, develop a transition of ownership strategy, continue to focus on improving our architectural, interior and graphic capabilities.

Who is your favorite Architect? Why?  

Unquestionably Alvar Aalto.  I love the way his buildings embrace the landscape and often look to him for inspiration.

What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?  

My favorite historic building would be the Pantheon in Rome.  Favorite contemporary – the Kimball Art Museum in Texas by Louis Kahn.

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

We need to reverse the trend of being considered by the public as a commodity.  We need to educate the public and our clients on the value added in what we provide in the services we perform.  We are not copy or toilet paper. 

Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?      

The greatest influence on my design work was my 3rd year architecture professor who demanded only the highest quality work from me and forced me out of my comfort zone to continually strive to learn from every project, to grow and become better as an architect.

Which building or project type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?   

Airport – I love the idea of doing something at that scale.

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

A National Geographic photographer.

 What advice do you have for a future Executive leader?     

Always be true to yourself, treat people fairly and conduct yourself with the highest level of integrity.  Your word should be your bond.

What are three key challenges you face as a leader in business today and one trend you see in your industry?  

Challenges:  the economy, dealing with diversity in the work place and the ever-increasing reliance on technology.  As mentioned above, the competition and lowering of fees continue on a downward spiral.

What one thing must an executive leader be able to do to be successful in the next 3 years?  

Don’t just adapt to change – embrace it.

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?     

Take risks and have the commitment to see them through.  Be a good listener.  Show a concern and appreciation for your employees.  Be proactive in solving problems.  Never let anything fester.  Once the attorneys get involved no one is happy with the outcome.

For more exclusive ILMA interviews click here.

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!

Sincerely,
FRANK CUNHA III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

Gift Ideas from ILMA

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Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Daniel D’Agostino, AIA of Plan Architecture

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:

ILMA INTERVIEW

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.

For more exclusive ILMA interviews click here.

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!

Sincerely,
FRANK CUNHA III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

Gift Ideas from ILMA


Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Tim Witzig of @PKSBArchitects

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? 

Failure.

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!

Sincerely,
FRANK CUNHA III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

Gift Ideas from ILMA


Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (often referred to as “The Guggenheim”) is a well-known museum located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York CityUnited States. It is the permanent home to a renowned collection ofImpressionistPost-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the 20th century’s most important architectural landmarks.[citation needed]

The museum opened on October 21, 1959, and was the second museum opened by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; from 2005 to 2008 it underwent an extensive renovation.

The building has become a cultural icon and can be seen widely throughout popular culture. It is featured in Matthew Barney‘s The Cremaster CycleBye Bye BirdieMen in Black,When in RomeDowntown 81,Ugly Betty and prominently in The International, where a major shootout occurs in the museum. (In fact, a life-size replica of the museum was built for this scene.)

In the film, ManhattanWoody Allen meets Diane Keaton at the museum. In Someone to Watch Over Me there’s a scene in the museum where the killer confronts the woman who witnessed him murdering her friend. Mr. Popper’s Penguins has a scene where the penguins surf on ice water spilled on the floor, during a social event being held in the museum. The New Yorker has included the museum multiple times on its cover and cartoons.