Fortunato (Fred) Zaghi, B.P.S. ’85
Scott Willis, M.U.P. ’98 & M.S. ’97 and Tricia Kerney-Willis, M.U.P. ’98 & M.S. ’98
Annette Parisi, B.P.S. ’93
Holly Sinnott, M.U.P. ’98
Christ J. Kamages, M.Arch. ’72
Charles Davis II, M.Arch. ’02 & B.P.S. ’99
Creating Innovative Environments Inside and Out
UB School of Architecture and Planning transforms passion and creativity into real-world designs
Story by Tacey Rosolowski, Ph.D. ’91
How do you build a community? What does it take to erect a skyscraper? Where do you look for answers about form and functionality? When do you know the design is absolutely perfect? The answers to these questions and so many others can all be found in the classrooms, hallways and studios of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning.
Founded in 1969, the School of Architecture and Planning still embraces its original mission of excellence: To provide architects and planners with interdisciplinary training in innovative problem solving and design methods while, at the same time, instilling a commitment to design integrity and global awareness. Today, the school continues to provide a rich environment enhanced by a diverse and accomplished faculty, active research centers and a continuous stream of top designers and scholars visiting from around the world.
Now in his third year as dean, Brian Carter says, “This is an exciting and vital time for the school as the students, faculty and staff collaborate in design, research, education and service with that same spirit as when the school first opened.” Profiled here are four architects and three planning graduates, all from UB, who are fulfilling the promise of the school’s vision, influencing both design and communities worldwide with passion and creativity.
Blending expressivity and practical function
Arriving for jury duty in San Francisco, Fred Zanghi, B.P.S. ’85, knew the building was poorly designed when he watched the judge enter the courtroom through the same door used by the public. He had already designed three courthouses, including the award-winning Utah State Court Complex in Salt Lake City. From interviews with judges and court staff, he learned to ensure the integrity of the legal system by keeping the users separate. “That’s the part of the profession that’s exciting,” Zanghi says. “You design a building for a development corporation and you learn how that business works. You design a courthouse and you learn what’s important to judges, clerks and the public.”
Since 2004, Zanghi has been working at Perkins Eastman Architects in Stamford, Connecticut, where, he notes, “I can have more impact in the office” and continue to work on large-scale projects. Zanghi has always resisted design specialization. “Each type of building lets you reinvent yourself,” he says. Prior to that, he worked for 14 years with the prestigious firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK), advancing to senior associate.
While at HOK, Zanghi was project architect for the headquarters of Winrock International, a nonprofit organization in Little Rock, Arkansas. The building’s expressivity excites him. “The trusses from the ‘V’ roof come flying out,” Zanghi explains. “The glass shows the building structure inside and out.” The design also expresses the building’s functionality. It gave Zanghi an opportunity for reinvention. The headquarters had to reflect the organization’s role in supporting Third World initiatives in environmentally sustainable agriculture, so Zanghi obtained certification in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines. To reduce the air conditioning load, he drew on the traditional “dog trot” style of southern homes and designed Winrock with a central breezeway to catch winds from the Arkansas River. The white ‘V’ roof reflects sunlight and shades the building; the steep angle collects cooling rainwater that drains into a nearby lagoon to be recycled (when needed) to irrigate plantings of hardy native grasses and flowers.
Zanghi recalls his course on environmental issues with UB associate professor Dennis Andrejko 20 years ago, when architects were first sensitized to links between the built and natural environments. “Finally, things are actually being implemented,” Zanghi observes. “Architectural firms have environmental goals as one of their core values because it’s good for society.”
Now at Perkins Eastman, Zanghi works on educational structures. With two small children, he has personal motives for creating environmentally responsible designs, flooding classrooms with natural light to improve students’ performance and avoiding gas-emitting materials to prevent the “sick-building syndrome.” He is studying the unique space requirements of different curricula and user groups, and taps the expertise of his wife, Maria Martinez, a speech-language pathologist and fellow UB graduate (B.A. ’87). “I’m learning a whole other language of architecture and how a building functions,” he says.
Zanghi and his fellow UB architecture students used to enjoy UB professor emeritus William Huff’s phrase, “Never let an architect drive a car. He’ll be looking at everything but the road.” He admits it’s very difficult to turn off his fascination with structures, people’s relationship to space, and how the environment works inside and outside a building. “The built environment is all around you,” he says. “It’s your laboratory.”
Empowering others in the art of planning
Tricia Kerney-Willis, M.U.P. ’98 & M.S. ’98, and Scott Willis, M.U.P. ’98 & M.S. ’97, met as students in the UB planning program and married in 2000. They have fast-track careers in banking in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area and share a commitment to closing the housing gap in their region. National home ownership statistics are striking: 50 percent of minority families own homes, compared to 70 percent of white families.
From 1999 to 2002, Kerney-Willis was working in commercial real estate development. She drew on her planner’s knowledge of the built environment and her own research showing that policy and planning strategies can remake inner-city wastelands into communities with a sound future. She frequently attended residential closings for minority individuals when a sale would pay off a development loan. “It was amazing,” she recalls. “People thanked me with tears in their eyes, even though I wasn’t their loan agent.”
Her experiences in development convinced her that a move into residential real estate would allow her to make a more direct impact on minority communities. In 2002, she was hired by Bank of America, one of the first banks nationwide to create a department focused on community development. Now an assistant vice president and mortgage account executive with a region encompassing Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland, she has a monthly goal of $1 million in mortgage production. She looks back with amazement on her rapid rise in this fast and lucrative market. But what really pays her back, she says, is building minority home ownership in southeast Washington and Anacostia, both in the District of Columbia.
Kerney-Willis works with churches, community organizations and nonprofits to run workshops for first-time buyers. She offers basic information and changes a mind-set created by years or even generations of renting. “Minority buyers often don’t understand that home ownership can allow them to create the wealth to send a child to college or enjoy a better retirement,” she explains.
Scott Willis also sees home ownership as a minority family’s key to stability. “It’s about controlling your own destiny,” he says. As vice president of emerging markets for the Mid-Atlantic region for First Horizon Home Loans, Willis is setting up the framework in which minority communities can tap financial resources. A planning path led to this position.
When the Department of Housing and Urban Development designated Baltimore an Empowerment Zone, Willis served as the business development program manager for the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation from 1999 to 2001, managing 20 percent of HUD’s $100 million devoted to this project. This project contributed to Baltimore being named the country’s most successful Empowerment Zone. “Planning is just planning without financial resources,” he says, explaining that he sees banking as a way to use his planning skills and serve minority communities by putting those resources into their hands.
His most wide-reaching opportunity came in 2004, when First Horizon began an emerging markets initiative and brought Willis in to build networks to deliver information and financial services to minority communities in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties, Maryland. The Willises see their UB years as a shared experience that blended their personal relationship with their professional identities. His thesis advisor, Ernest Sternberg, professor of planning, supported his research on workforce development and “embodies everything I think a planner should be. He talked about the usefulness of planning techniques in all fields and aspects of life.” Tricia Kerney-Willis also credits Sternberg’s role in creating a nurturing environment for students and encouraging her own research. Both agree that their planning background gave them an exposure to the built environment and a comprehensive view of processes that make them distinct among the M.B.A.s who dominate their field.
It also provided the basis for all they now share. They work for competing banks, but neither sees this as a problem. Scott Willis believes they have a shared respect. “We have watched each other grow. We play and compete as equals.” The couple has just built their first home and they talk about starting their own business someday, combining their complementary skills and commitment to building home ownership.
Making it all work, by merging talents
While a master’s candidate in architecture at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Annette Parisi, B.P.S. ’93, took a job with a construction company to complement her training in hands-on building. In 1995, she was a construction manager for the FBI’s new Washington Metropolitan Field Office. After the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, the government stopped work on the FBI Building and redesigned it to prevent the “progressive collapse” that had devastated the Murrah Building. Implementing the new plans went slowly. “Sometimes the security additions just wouldn’t fit,” Parisi explains. “We worked together in the field with the architect and the structural engineer to resolve problems on-the-spot.”
In 2000, Parisi took her first architectural job with RTKL Associates in Washington, D.C., and, in 2004, received her architect’s license. Her previous site experience sparked a love for turning ideas into steel, concrete and glass and placed her in the unique position of being a woman moving between the largely male worlds of construction and design. “In construction, you’ll still encounter inappropriate comments,” she admits. “It can take a tough skin and hard work to gain respect.” Her hard work has led her to discover her gift for creating collaboration throughout the building process.
The professions’ priorities don’t always align, Parisi explains. “Architects sometimes design beautiful things that can’t be easily built; contractors want things built as efficiently as possible; engineers are mainly concerned with how the building systems function.” With her ability to understand each discipline’s different aims and values, Parisi builds team rapport early in the process, preventing conflicts and mistakes that can have a costly “ripple effect,” destroying schedules and budgets.
Collaborative efficiency was key in the Phoenix Project, where Parisi coordinated architectural and structural changes during the Pentagon’s post-9/11 reconstruction. Completed in a year, “it was unusually fast track,” Parisi observes as she recalls the crews working around-the-clock, with volunteers serving them meals. Building teamwork was no less important to her role as coordinator for all the disciplines in the construction of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation Research in White Oak, Maryland. At a recent company party, the team celebrated the results of their collaboration in the building’s lobby, where they had to preserve the three-story-high ceiling, while fitting in a complex system of air vents and electrical systems. Parisi looks forward to another successful outcome, now that she is serving as construction administrator on the Capitol Building underground addition that doubles the building’s square footage.
“I really enjoy research and design,” she says. “But the process doesn’t end until you make it work.” She looks back to her undergraduate professor, Ted Lownie (also a practicing architect), as a model of how to implement theory in actual projects. Furthermore, a studio class taught by four professors strengthened her belief that multiple perspectives reveal the best design solutions. As a professional, Parisi understands that collaboration requires as much problem solving as architectural design. “Architecture is innately a struggle between theory and practice, design and the technical expertise of many groups of people,” she says. “It’s something I’ll be refining throughout my whole career.”
Fostering trade with a world vision
Holly Sinnott’s fascination with international trade sparked early. Born and raised in Buffalo, Sinnott, M.U.P. ’98, spent days on her father’s boat watching traffic flow over the bridges connecting the United States and Canada. “I saw the potential of the border every day,” she says. She developed her technical and leadership skills in the UB Planning program, and today, as president and CEO of the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara (WTCBN), she makes global business happen.
WTCBN, a private, nonprofit organization, started as the Niagara International Trade Council (NITC). Directors at NITC saw leadership in Sinnott’s planning and management approach and hired her to launch the WTCBN in July 2000, managing the transition from a networking and educational organization to a consulting practice providing comprehensive international trade services to businesses in the Buffalo-Niagara region.
When Sinnott works with a new client, she takes dry-erase markers to a huge world map on the wall of the main office. She draws in the business, its markets and centers of trade regulation. “The business needs to visualize itself as a world leader,” she asserts, and sees WTCBN as the “general contractor” that provides the means to build that vision. In consultations, she helps a business think creatively about where and how to most profitably expand. Sinnott explains that a 135-year-old local business in machine parts may have no technical edge in the U.S. and European markets, but can offer a revolutionary product in less-developed Uzbekistan or Jordan. One company wants to penetrate the textile market in China, another to streamline manufacturing processes dispersed over Mexico and Europe. Her clients need information about import/export regulations. Market evaluation, document translation services and intercultural training are also critical to business success.
“I’m not an expert in every world market,” Sinnott says, “but in business, networking is everything.” Beyond her own staff, the WTCBN’s nearly 300 sister World Trade Centers in more than 100 countries plug her into a “turbo-charged Rolodex.” With a phone call she taps information in Guangzhou in the People’s Republic of China; in Lille, France, or in Santiago, Chile. Such access keeps businesses competitive by saving critical time. With Sinnott’s help, one client increased trade volumes with Latin America by 28 percent in nine months.
Sinnott attributes her success with small- and medium-sized companies to her experience working in her family’s lumber business. “Can we make sales and can we meet our payroll? These were critical questions to our survival. Planning is about mediating between what you want to be as an individual and your place in a collective,” Sinnott explains. She recalls absorbing this lesson from UB urban planning professor emeritus David Perry, who inspired her own commitment to understanding trade as active implementation. “It’s about change at the grass-roots level,” she asserts. “The more a company engages in international markets, the healthier it is and the healthier the region is.”
Reflecting on the scope of her work, Sinnott concludes, “It’s about giving back.” She feels “huge gratification” when a company makes an international deal, knowing that dollars flowing into a company affect many people. In 2003, she accompanied a group of about 25 UB M.B.A. students to China, giving back by enriching the education of a new generation of global entrepreneurs. This sense of mission stems from her pride as a Western New Yorker. “Trade is this region’s past and its future,” she says. “We are doing our community a service when we put Buffalo-Niagara on a pedestal for the world to see.”
Designing for centers of faith and justice
A sense of mission has guided Christ J. Kamages, M.Arch. ’72, through his 30-year career designing everything from city halls to residences. (“Christ” is pronounced “Kris,” with the “t” barely audible.) “What’s lacking in society is a sense of community, faith and spirituality,” he asserts. “All the great buildings manifest some kind of community purpose.” His Pasadena Police Building and Jail in Pasadena, California, is a striking achievement of this goal, as is a police station in northern California pictured below. In 2002, the building won an Architecture in Justice Award from the American Institute of Architects at the national level. The Pasadena building promotes effective law enforcement, while inviting community participation and harmonizing with its historic location.
Kamages began his UB master’s degree work in 1971, two years after the program’s establishment. The visionary design methods group that focused on user needs influenced him, as did John Paul Eberhard, first dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, who held architects accountable for failing civilization by not doing hands-on work with clients. He participated in the “Buffalo Experiment,” a group of user-centered community projects, and continued this work while a UB assistant professor of architecture from 1973 to 1977. These experiences reinforced values he had developed much earlier, during the summers he spent working both at an architectural firm and the family’s diner on Long Island. “It was all about customer service,” Kamages says, a view that matured into his view of the architect as a “servant leader.”
Kamages stepped fully into that role in 1984, when he moved to San Francisco and acquired his own practice, establishing a design niche in faith-based structures. He has designed more than 100 churches and community complexes. In 2003, he changed the firm’s name from EKONA to CJK Design Group to better reflect its unique service: “a comprehensive process of problem solving in collaboration with the people who will own the space, rather than handing it to them as an architect-as-high-priest.” He is currently at work on a master plan for a parish in Valparaiso, California. The village, planned for future growth, will include facilities for early learning, education and worship, a church, recreational facilities for all ages, a retirement home and a cemetery.
Raised in a faithful Greek Orthodox family, Kamages brings a keen awareness of spiritual heritage to his designs for Orthodox communities. He builds dialogue between contemporary needs and Byzantine cathedrals. The Monastery of the Theotokos in Dunlap, California, won the 2002 Concrete Masonry Design Award for its historic use of rockface. The Cathedral of Panagia, dedicated in 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, features an enormous dome that shapes an expansive, open worship space. There, Kamages explains, the congregation experiences their “union as a community and with the body of Christ.” He uses this sixth-century form to revitalize the democratic values of early Orthodox religion, where the congregation participated equally in worship with the choir and clergy. Kamages worked with the community to create a complete worship experience, designing a sacred space with light, vivid icons and interior fittings. His practice offers artifact design services, as well as architectural design and planning, training and strategic development for parishes.
According to Kamages, “architecture is a verb, not a noun,” aimed at involving people in transformative space. He admits his vision is a product of the idealistic 1960s, citing the provocative question of that time, “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?” Kamages answers the contemporary problem of alienation and waning spirituality with “holistic architecture,” melding creativity, strategic thinking and research to make a difference for communities. When it works, Kamages says, “It’s a very humbling experience.”
Exploring theory and politics in architecture
Charles Davis II, M.Arch. ’02 & B.P.S. ’99, is guided by a simple philosophy with broad implications: “I believe the purposeful design of spaces influences people’s ability to think beyond life’s basics, and this is particularly true for those raised in substandard settings.” Davis, currently a doctoral candidate in architectural theory at the University of Pennsylvania, is researching the politics at work in architectural form and practice, particularly as it applies to minority communities.
Davis, who grew up on Buffalo’s East Side, was witness to how the built environment reinforces political and social inequity. “I can recall a ‘brownfield’ near my aunt’s house that was a playground for years before people realized its dangers,” he says. He also notes that skyways, dumps, transportation centers and poorly designed housing as features of the urban landscape “rarely go into neighborhoods where people have political impact.” The placement of these sites sends the message that low-income, minority communities deserve, and have no power to prevent, toxic ugliness. They also prompt higher income people to avoid these areas, increasing the community’s isolation and invisibility.
“This presence is a testament to a city’s politics,” Davis asserts. He discovered subtle politics in early American architecture, while researching Thomas Jefferson’s design for Monticello, which was modeled after a Roman villa that situated the servants’ quarters on the first floor. In Monticello, Jefferson concealed this level underground, along with the slaves it housed. Davis concludes that “Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence and theorist of human freedom, realized that he had to obey the South’s social conventions regarding slavery, despite his own liberal rhetoric.” Davis’s findings appeared May 1 in the online journal, Diversity and Design.
“I want minorities to be very clear about their own architectural agency and how it is represented by theorists,” Davis says. He is focusing his doctoral research on architectural theorist Colin Rowe. In the 1960s, Rowe developed the view that architecture and urban design were concerned primarily with form. This bias has been perpetuated as Rowe’s approach influenced later theory, as well as professional education and practice. “By reinterpreting Rowe’s theory,” Davis explains, “I want to raise awareness of the relationship between politics and design, so architects can live up to their political and social responsibilities.”
Indeed, Davis is committed to implementing his theoretical findings by improving residential architecture for the low-income public. “Instead of no design,” Davis says, “you can have very simple and clear design. Focus on crucial systems, such as storage and structure. Mirror [or double] wall studs on the wall surface and build a bookcase between them. It appears that you’re reaching into the wall for a book.” In this way, he says, the user interacts with structures usually unseen and realizes architecture is present. UB planning associate professor Al Price inspired Davis’s ideas for community rehabilitation. His internship doing computer-assisted design for Robert Coles, an African American architect practicing in Buffalo, was also key. Coles encouraged Davis to set his sights on becoming licensed to practice architecture, in addition to earning his Ph.D., researching and teaching, in order to build an African American presence in the field. Coles also reinforced lessons Davis learned from associate architecture professor M. Beth Tauke: simple design solutions are often the best. “They allow an architect to give back to people who don’t usually live with good design,” Davis says. “It helps them understand that there’s architecture there.”
Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. ’91, is a freelance writer and literary essayist whose articles have appeared in newspapers and such magazines as Metalsmith and American Craft.
Photos by Nick Merrick, Hedrich Blessing, Nicholas McIntosh, KC Kratt, M.F.A. ’84, and Katia Vraimakis.