Nicholas Cichanowski graduated from the M Arch Program in 2013
Why did you choose SSA?
I visited SSA along with several other architecture schools in the New York City area. During my visit, Prof. Bradley Horn, the director of the MArch program, met with me and talked about the school’s philosophy of striking a balance between theory and practice. Having worked as a contractor for many years prior to deciding to return to school this resonated with me, I immediately knew I was in the right place.
What’s the favorite project you worked on during your time at SSA?
In my final year, I took an advanced computing course taught by Michael Szivos, founder of SOFTlab, where we used a variety of 3D and parametric design software programs to create gravity-formed structures, which we then fabricated and displayed at the school. It was an exercise in form-finding within the digital realm, and understanding how to bring that form from the digital into the physical.
What have you been doing since you graduated from SSA?
Upon graduation, I began working full time at Dominick R. Pilla Associates, an engineering and architecture firm. Prof. Dominick Pilla was my structures professor at SSA and has extensive real world knowledge of design and construction, which is what attracted me to working with him. I recently struck out on my own and have been developing my architecture business.
What current developments in the field do you find the most exciting?
I’m primarily interested in energy efficiency, as I see climate change a real and present threat to our planet. At the risk of exposing myself as a materials nerd, I find myself most interested in advancements in insulation and building-envelope design. Buildings are the primary user of energy in the world, and we need to work quickly and diligently to reduce their demand. We only have this one home, this one little green and blue sphere spinning around in the vastness of space. I believe it is imperative that we act as good stewards of our home.
How did SSA prepare you for your current position?
As an older student, having already had a career as a contractor, when I arrived at SSA I barely knew how to find the “on” button on a computer. I didn’t know architectural nomenclature. By the time I left, I was adept at a variety of design programs and spoke the language of architecture. More than anything I was surprised at my capacity for learning. I was intimidated at first, and felt like I was out of my depth, that I was not a “computer person” and would never be able to learn all these new things. Now I tell anyone who’s thinking of trying something new that they’ll be amazed at their own abilities that lay there waiting to be tapped into. As with anything, you start with the basics and then things begin to fall into place.
How do you stay involved with SSA?
As any young architect knows, the demands of a new job are many, so I have had precious few opportunities to get back to SSA. However, I do keep up with what’s happening though the email newsletter and recently attended a lecture where several faculty members spoke about their work. It was wonderful to see the variety of interests out there and I am going to make an effort to attend more lectures.
What advice do you have for current SSA students?
I think my most successful projects at school were those in which I resisted falling in love with any single iteration, but rather kept pushing until the last second, when my studio professor began to insist that I commit to a direction. I would tell students that in your career, if you can convince clients to stay in the schematic phase as long as possible, that is when architecture gets created. Design development and construction documents are in many ways just drafting and selection of fixtures and finishes. Schematic is architecture.