Published February 25, 2019
Six recent graduates of the School of Architecture and Planning, all rising stars in their fields, convened in Buffalo earlier this month to discuss their pathways into practice.
From architectural designer and affordable housing specialist to architectural critic and social entrepreneur, the panel of alumni represented a cross-section of practice today across the built environment professions. Each shared his or her professional journey and lessons learned along the way while reflecting on emergent areas of practice across our disciplines.
Organized by faculty, the In Practice Alumni Symposium was held in honor of former architecture student Sydney Gross, who passed away tragically in 2009 after her freshman year.
"It's only appropriate that we celebrate Sydney and her exuberant spirit by bringing together this diverse group of alums who are doing interesting, provocative work," said Joyce Hwang, associate professor and associate chair of architecture, who taught Sydney in freshman studio.
In addition to their participation in the symposium, the cadre of graduates met with students and faculty and toured the school's updated facilities, including the renovated Hayes Hall and new SMART Fabrication Factory in Parker Hall.
At TM Montante, Daniel Crowther combines his interest in design and a keen collaborative facility as manager of development projects across the region, from Niagara Falls to downtown Buffalo.
Since joining TM Montante in 2016, he's directed projects involving historic tax credits, public approvals, financial analysis and design development. As a full-service developer, TMMontante closely engages with all project phases, from the selection of materials to construction management. As project manager, Crowther coordinates efforts across TM Montante Development, Montante Solar and Montante Construction throughout the development process.
Crowther returned to Buffalo mid-way through his undergraduate career, after beginning his architectural studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga. He earned his bachelor's in environmental design at UB and went right into the Master of Science in Architecture program as a member of the school's first cohort in real estate development studies.
He says he was drawn to Buffalo by the school's on-the-ground engagement with the city. "I felt everything I was doing as an undergraduate and graduate student was totally entrenched in the community. We were working directly with community stakeholders and designing projects that were in Buffalo. We were encouraged to study Buffalo's architectural heritage."
UB's real estate development program also introduced Crowther to TM Montante. The firm reached out to UB in 2015 to engage architecture students in a design competition for its reuse of a former hospital on Buffalo's Gates Circle. Crowther and his team made it to the finals, impressing TM Montante so much they hired him as an intern there that summer, and brought him on as part of the team by the fall.
Daniel Crowther says his position with TM Montante taps his background in architecture, real estate development and environmental design. "I am able to draw, and I'm also able to develop buidlings," he says, adding that he enjoys the collaborative nature of the work.
As a community planning and development representative for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's field office in Buffalo, Caitlin Donovan oversees a portfolio of affordable housing and economic development grants across the upstate region.
Working with a range of HUD grantees, from local governments to nonprofits, Donovan provides technical assistance in grant implementation and oversees usage of funds.
Donovan says she stumbled into urban planning. A student athlete on UB's track team, she started her undergraduate studies in the architecture program but preferred the balance of urban design and community development in environmental design. After earning her BAED she furthered her interest in neighborhood and community development as a student in UB's Master of Urban Planning program.
She jumped right into the field after graduation, working to bring affordable housing to Buffalo's lower West Side with Heart of the City Neighborhoods. Over the course of five years Donovan worked on more than 50 home rehabilitation and development projects, overseeing the distribution of more than $1 million in grant funds.
There Donovan learned valuable lessons in the management of large and complex federal grants. She credits much of this growth to her mentor and HOTC director Stephanie Simeon, also an alumnae of UB's MUP program. "I had a $700,000 grant to manage and had to figure out what to do with it. She told me to come to her with solutions, not just questions. She empowered me to be a leader."
In 2016, Donovan was presented with an opportunity she couldn't pass up. As community planning and development representative with HUD's Buffalo field office, Donovan administers a range of community development funds across upstate New York, serving a population of more than 10 million.
Donovan says her pathway into the housing and community development field demonstrates the range of opportunities opened up by a planning degree. "I had no idea the paths urban planning would open up. Working with nonprofits in housing? Some of it was luck, I fell into it."
I had no idea the paths urban planning would open up. Working with nonprofits in housing? Some of it was luck, I fell into it.
Maciej Kaczynski has landed in a good spot as a project leader in the Chicago office of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design practice founded by Jeanne Gang.
But his pathway there has followed a series of bumpy landings - all reminders, Kaczynski says, that "failure is a critical part of what we do."
After earning his bachelor's in architecture at UB, he went straight to Harvard GSD for his Master of Architecture - and then graduated right into the heart of the recession of 2008. "I learned early on is that life doesn't go according to plan."
Putting on hold his dream of practicing in a firm, he adapted nimbly, landing a teaching gig at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Building on a passion for making cultivated at UB, he took on the role of assistant director of the college’s FABLab, where he honed his CNC skillset in the company of routers, water jets, knife cutters, and robots. His research on novel and historical means of making, joining and assembling generated a series of prototypical vaults in stone, concrete, and wood.
But after five years there he began to crave a greater sense of permanence to his work. He was ready for practice.
After securing a highly sought-after position at Studio Gang, he would be humbled yet again. "It was not the smoothest of landings. I realized how much I had to learn. I was back to being a student."
Since joining the firm six years ago, Kaczynski has built a portfolio of cultural, educational, and adaptive reuse projects. He currently leads the design team for the Beloit College Powerhouse, now under construction. The project will transform a shuttered, coal-fired power plant along the Rock River in Beloit Wisconsin into a student center of wellness and fitness. Kaczynski's past projects include Writers Theatre in Glencoe; Chicago’s Lyric Opera Concert Shell; and the forthcoming Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
He says he has relished the return to drawing, and finds creative enregy in the collaborative dynamic of the firm. "I adore working toward a common goal. There's a can-do kind of spirit, a lightness at Studio Gang. Here brevity and clarity [in design ideas] becomes more important."
But still going off plan is part of every day in practice. He points to the wall of ideas at the firm. "Design is not a clean thing. There are many fits and starts, moments when you have to defend a design. It's common in our office. We'll put (the idea) up, grab it off wall. It's a place for things to grow."
Kaczinski says in life and in design, there is a necessity of failure and veering "off plan." At Studio Gang, designers make use of a "wall of ideas" for such a process to evolve. "It’s not a clean thing - there are many fits and starts. We'll put (the idea) up, grab it off wall. It's a place for things to grow."
Quardean Lewis-Allen's commitment to design activism and youth engagement in his native Brownsville has deep ties to his experience growing up in the impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood.
As a child, he lost an uncle to gun violence in front of a vacant lot in Brownsville. "I have always associated vacant spaces with loss," he says.
It wasn't long after he began his architectural studies at UB, and then, at the graduate level, Harvard University, that he began to apply design to social activism. "I needed to dive into provocations I cared about. I began to think about what does that vacant lot mean in terms of space? What does activating it mean? What does engaging in spaces in our backyards productively mean? When we've been disenfranchised from those spaces?"
Indeed, Brownsville is an epicenter of socioeconomic distress, reflecting some of the nation's highest concentrations of public housing, chronic illness and incarceration rates.
Lewis-Allen looks back on his years in Buffalo as "some of the best in my life." He says the program build a fundamental technical skillset and facility with design thinking and making. In Harvard's MArch program, Lewis-Allen began to apply his skills to design activism. He founded the Social Changes and Activism Group (SoCAG) at Harvard in 2010, and launched its associated publication Design Opportunity (or "DO!"), shortly thereafter.
By 2013 he had returned to his hometown to found Made In Brownsville, a nonprofit organization that build design and technical skills among youth through direct engagement in their community. His mission is to reduce the number of disconnected youth in Brownsville by lowering their barriers to entry to the STEAM professions and increase their experience in the innovation economy.
"We train these young people to be civic leaders and give them tools in design to build their professions," he says.
MIB serves as a fabrication space for youth to design, build and even sell their creations, from apparel to art. Youth participants engage in a range of community projects to foster placed-based neighborhood revitalization. Recent efforts include a branding campaign for anti-violence, the design and programming of a pop-up retail space on a vacant lot, and the activation of a community play space to promote healthy living. Often these experiences serve as inspiration for the products and artwork they create.
Lewis-Allen takes the opportunity to engage youth with their fellow community members, and to build sensitivity to inclusion and active listening. "We work to build empathy and respond to what [the community] is saying."
His work in social advocacy and community-led design is nationally recognized. Lewis-Allen is an Emerging Leaders Fund recipient of Claneil Foundation. He was named to Crain’s 40 under 40 list of rising New York business leaders (2018) and to the Forbes 30 Under 30 - Social Entrepreneurs list (2017).
"We train these young people to be civic leaders and give them tools in design to build their professions, says Lewis-Allen, on the mission of Made in Brownsville."
Gabrielle Printz is an architect-trained researcher, writer, and designer. She came into UB's Master of Architecture program after earning dual degrees in political science and art history, a pathway that contributes to her approach to critical spatial practice through multiple disciplinary registers.
Her work hovers loosely around the bodied subject, and negotiates the designed interfaces between people and power.
After her time in Buffalo, Printz entered Columbia University’s Master of Science in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture program and generated an award-winning thesis on the layered jurisdictions of non-citizen apprehension and incarceration.
At GSAPP, she produced research projects for the Center for Spatial Research, Collecting Architecture Territories, and Echoing Borders through Studio-X Amman, and has edited texts and designed installations for Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, including "Footnotes on Climate" for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.
In 2016, she founded feminist architecture collaborative (or f-architecture), a spatial research and design office, with partners Rosana Elkhatib and Virginia Black. f-architecture spent its first year in practice at the GSAPP Incubator at NEW INC, an initiative of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Together, they have designed exhibitions, built scenographies for protest, written about the teenage girl, and organized a delegation of indigenous midwives at UN Habitat, produced performances with artists on the streets of Amman.
Recently Printz and her partners exhibited their research on the objects and interiors of contemporary virginity at VI PER Gallery in Prague. The exhibition builds on f-architecture's interest in virginity as a "status that works upon the body," particularly among women in the Middle East. The artificial hymen, designed to "preserve" a woman's virginity, has a strong market in Middle Eastern countries.
f-architecture has fabricated critical hymen objects in an effort to present a different type of artifact within the current market, and intervene in conceptions of virginity.
Beyond the artificial hymen, Printz and her partners have studied devices that make the female body seeable - speculums, menstrual devices, anti-rape devices. "These are all things that support a version of the sexually performing female body."
Printz is widely published. She’s a co-editor of Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice (Actar, 2015) with UB architecture faculty Joyce Hwang and Martha Bohm. Her writing and work has appeared in Harvard Design Magazine, Real Review, ED, at the Yale Center for British Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, and Nottingham Contemporary.
Gabrielle Printz approaches critical spatial practice through the lens of multiple disciplines, including art, political science and architecture. Her work focuses on the bodied subject, and negotiates the designed interfaces between people and power.
Rebecca Yanus spent two years meandering through courses in pre-dental and engineering before finding her place in urban planning at UB.
She recalls an advisor at UB recommending a class in the environmental design program, a common undergraduate path of entry into the Master of Urban Planning program. "Urban planning? What's that?" Yanus remebers asking the counselor.
It wasn't long before Yanus realized she'd found her calling. After earning her BAED she stayed on at UB to earn her Master of Urban Planning. Today she's head of planning for the City of Dunkirk in Chautauqua County, in the southwestern corner of New York State.
The Lake Erie shoreline community has served as a dynamic forum for urban planning, particularly in the arena of tourism and economic development. The community of 12,000 is highly diverse - one third of its population Hispanic/Latino.
In recent years, Yanus's office has led development of the city's comprehensive plan, a waterfront redevelopment plan, and multiple brownfield opportunity area plans. The city is in the midst of redeveloping the Dunkirk Pier, a major destination for residents and tourists alike. "We are a city on the lake, and we celebrate that," she says.
Under Yanus's leadership, the planning office currently oversees 17 grants totaling more than $6 million in public and private investment into the community.
Sharing advice to current students, Yanus says: "I can't emphasize enough the importance of grant writing. It's a huge piece in the urban planning field. If there's a grant writing class, take it."
Prior to her position with the City of Dunkirk, Yanus built her foundation in the practice of planning as a junior planner for the Laberge Group. Working out of the company's Albany office, she participated on planning efforts for 15 different communities. "I got myhands involved in everything," she says.
"I can't emphasize enough the importance of grant writing. It's a huge piece in the urban planning field. If there's a grant writing class, take it."