“My day is spent in a studio. As you get further in your career in college, the projects become more in-depth with learning structure, HVAC, materiality, everything that goes into the building. It definitely gets more structured and more intensive, so it becomes more work. You find yourself in the studio 10 hours a day sometimes, and it’s definitely very long and stressful. ”
Nicholas Agnello Interview
ASR: [00:16] Nicholas, tell us a little bit about you. You are an architecture student now, right?
Nicholas: [00:23] Yes, I currently go to Jefferson University in Philadelphia. I’m in my fifth year, so I’m graduating this year, and looking for jobs right now. I have always been fascinated by architecture, it’s something that has been a part of my entire life. My father, he owned a construction company, and me and my three older brothers worked for him pretty much whenever we could. Then in high school, I took an AutoCAD class and immediately fell in love with it, and just instantly fell in love with architecture as a whole.
ASR: [01:13] What about what about AutoCAD was it, that you fell in love with?
Nicholas: [01:19] Specifically in that class, it was the project we did. It was designing a house and being able to have that fluidity of creativity within what we were doing. I don’t know. It was just something really interesting that caught my eye and I was like, “Oh maybe one day I could design my own house or I can design my own building.” So yeah, that caught my eye and just pushed me towards architecture school, and then coming to Philly. I don’t really remember how I found out about this school. It used to be Philadelphia University. I’m not too sure. I remember I only applied to 2 schools. I applied here and to NJIT, and then just fell in love with this campus and went here.
ASR: [02:15] Where are you from originally?
Nicholas: [02:17] I’m from Northern New Jersey, so it’s not too far. It’s about two hours.
ASR: [02:25] I live in living Guttenberg. What do you call it, East New Jersey?
Nicholas: [02:34] Yeah, I guess you could call it.
ASR: [02:37] What are your dreams as an architect? What do you want to achieve in your career?
Nicholas: [02:46] That is a tough question. I think eventually to get licensed. Me and my brothers are actually trying to start a company where we flip houses. Eventually, my push is to become licensed and start this company with my brothers and become the licensed architect on the team. For right now, I’m really just going with what I think is interesting and then seeing where that takes me. Right now, I’m interested in beach houses and designing beach houses along the Jersey Shore. Who knows if, in two years, I would still like doing that?
ASR: [03:37] How did you discover that niche that you’re so interested in?
Nicholas: [03:44] I had a cooking job over the summer, down in LBI and I lived over there for 3 summers, and we have a house down there for now 8 to 9 years. So just being down there all the time, I love the area, I love the vibe that I get when I’m done there.
ASR: [04:07] The setting?
Nicholas: [04:08] Yeah, the setting. Then just the beauty, and simplicity, and the houses down there. And being able to have all these different views to the ocean, and everything that makes a beach beautiful.
ASR: [04:26] You did not get an internship? What year are you in by the way?
Nicholas: [04:32] Fifth year.
ASR: [04:32] Fifth year, so you are almost graduating. Did you get an internship were you design houses around that area or something like that?
Nicholas: [04:41] No, I actually haven’t gotten an internship.
ASR: [04:44] Why not?
Nicholas: [04:45] Mainly because I was working with my dad for the first couple of years of college, and then he kind of stepped down from the business and did his own thing for a little bit. At that point I was in a weird spot, I didn’t know where I was living at the moment, so I just took whatever job I could find. It was a series of unfortunate events, but it worked out in the end.
ASR: [05:28] Good. Do you feel that your education is giving you the tools that you need to become the architect to that specific niche that you want to become? Residential development and residential design?
Nicholas: [05:44] I would say for the most part, yes. On my end, I could have probably chosen different classes to point me towards this direction, but this is a new niche that I started to like maybe in the past year or two. It’s been kind of difficult with that, but yeah. For the most part, a lot of our projects after our second and third year become more commercial rather than residential. So it is a big difference between the first two years in college, but rather than the last three. I definitely have some knowledge from earlier in my college career that I’ve carried with me and excelled on my own.
ASR: [06:43] Right. So what’s your day-to-day experience like? Your routine is an architecture student? Where is the campus located, is it right in the middle of the city?
Nicholas: [06:58] No, we’re actually out of the city a little. We are in East Falls. It’s like 20 minutes away from the city, but now that Philadelphia University merged with Jefferson, we do have a center city campus, but that’s all medical. Yeah, I guess the day-to-day… do you want a day-to-day if I was in school, or the day-to-day right now?
ASR: [07:30] Well, when you’re in school. Now, you know.
Nicholas: [07:34] Right now it’s kind of tough [chuckle].
ASR: [07:35] Right, just in case someone sees it after COVID, like in 10 years from now, this interview is during the Covid-19 virus epidemic. For those of you in the future [laughter].
Nicholas: [07:48] [Laughter] Yeah, so a lot of my day is spent in a studio. As you get further in your career in college, the projects become more in-depth with learning structure, HVAC, materiality, everything that goes into the building. It definitely gets more structured and more intensive, so it becomes more work. You find yourself in the studio 10 hours a day sometimes, and it’s definitely very long and stressful. A lot of the time I find myself on the computer because most of our stuff, like AutoCAD Rhino, Revit, all of our programs are computer-based. It takes away from the drawing aspect of it, like the hand drawing, which is tough because that’s the most important part. It’s the easiest way to get your ideas out. So in a day, I’m usually on my computer for 10 hours, 12 hours, just drawing and then sketching on the side and trying to come up with ideas for whatever I’m doing.
ASR: [09:18] Are there things that you really like in your education that you feel are amazing and very unique to the architects education? Also, things that you really dislike and you wish that you didn’t have to deal with?
Nicholas: [09:39] Yes, a lot of things. Some of the things that are really cool about architecture, is the 3D printing process that we have. Our school is a heavy advocate for 3D printing, especially some of the design studios that I’ve been in. They have been super heavy advocates for that. I think we have 40 printers on campus that allow us to make almost whatever we want. They’re all free which is really cool, and we can print whatever times we want, just as long as you know what you’re doing. That’s something that’s really cool. That was introduced probably my third year.
What else? We also get our own desks, which is really nice, surprisingly. I’m actually realizing how much I took it for granted right now because I don’t have a desk in my room. So I’m working on a very small laptop, in a very small space and it’s very different.
ASRs: [10:50] Your desks or doors?
Nicholas: [10:51] It’s like a chair right now [chuckle].
ASR: [10:56] No, at school, they give you desks or they give you doors?
Nicholas: [10:59] Desks.
ASR: [11:00] Okay, because when I was in grad school they gave us large doors and you had to stick that padding on it.
Nicholas: [11:07] Oh really?
ASR: [11:00] Yeah, that parallelogram. It’s a regular door, and then you just use it as a desk.
Nicholas: [11:15] Interesting. Yeah, they give us, it is a desk, but it’s pretty much a slab of wood. Yeah, so that’s a really nice part about it, we get to keep our stuff there and everything.
ASR: [11:33] What about curricular stuff like relationships with your professors? What do you think of your professors as mentors and as instructors? Also as mentors for you for the professional world, are they preparing you for that and in general how good are they as mentors and instructors?
Nicholas: [11:53] A lot of it is relationship-based, it depends on who the professor is. For me, I would say out of the 10 design professors that I’ve had, 7 of them were really good and really helpful. I remember one of them his name was Vano, and I still go to him today. I had him my third year of college, or my second year sorry. I still go to him today and ask him questions about projects and run ideas by him. I’ve structures professors that I go to and my one professors I had my first class in college. His name was Christian, and I have him again as a professor this semester, as my last class. It’s really interesting how we’ve kept our relationship alive and there through my college career, and now he’s at the point where he’s helping me with my portfolio. He’s helping me with job searching, everything that he could help me with he is doing as much as he can possible, especially now. I think a lot of the faculty are really helpful, but also there are faculty that think they’re helpful but aren’t helpful as much.
ASR: [13:30] You don’t have to name names, but what do you mean by that?
Nicholas: [13:30] A big policy that this school kind of has, is they never fail anybody.
ASR: [13:47] Really?
Nicholas: [13:48] Yes, I haven’t heard of anyone that’s been failed. No, I’m sorry. I’ve heard of one.
ASR: [13:52] There’s a difference between that as a policy and that simply as that’s what happens. When I went to school too, I noticed that most people did not fail but you’re saying that your school has a policy that they don’t fail people?
Nicholas: [14:07] Alright, let me reword that then. I don’t know if it’s the policy, but from what I’ve heard from professors and students around, I haven’t heard of anyone that has failed in the past 5 years [chuckle]. I’ve heard of people that have dropped out because they didn’t like architecture, but people that should have failed… based on not how good their project was, but based on how much they produced and their ideas behind the project, and how their crits went. That just didn’t seem as if they were on the same level as the other students in the class and as if they should have passed. I know of one girl who actually failed one-design class, went to the dean and fought that grade to get back into it. It was interesting to see that happen because after seeing her project, it was a project about a wall. It was interesting to see that they gave her the grade to continue on, even though the professor and most of that class thought that she really didn’t deserve it.
ASR: [15:41] What do you think is the problem that some like this creates, the fact that the schools are so lenient that they don’t really fail people? As opposed to other schools, business schools, law schools, and med-school of course, that do fail people. What’s so bad about it, in your opinion?
Nicholas: [11:00] I think that it’s allowing people to skate by, so there are people that can do the minimal amount of work and still fight for their grade at the end. And just continue on with the lower grade rather than having to redo what they did. It’s almost unfair to see that happen, and almost unsafe, because to me architects are the ones designing buildings that people are occupying. They need to be safe and an architect needs to know how this building is going to stand up, or the functions of a building, and what works and what doesn’t work within a building, and how things go together. If people aren’t fully grasping that in college, then it’s going to be a problem in the future when they graduate and start working. Where, say a company hires person ‘X’ who did nothing while person ‘A’ didn’t get that job, that’s where their problems going to lie. They’re not going to have a person that has that motivation or knowledge that person ‘A’ had.
ASR: [17:23] Absolutely, we agree on that. I feel that there is a lot of competition in the field for jobs and that brings salaries down, especially entry-level jobs. That may have to do with the fact that they don’t fail anybody. People just see it as an easy thing to just go through it, and then there’s a lot of available cheap labor.
Nicholas: [1:54] Yeah, and it’s sad because then you get the people that actually do the hard work and sometimes they just get unlucky.
ASR: [18:05] Right. Have you started looking for jobs yet?
Nicholas: [18:11] Yeah, I’ve been applying around, everywhere, but right now might be the worst time to get a job.
ASR: [18:20] Definitely, but when did you start applying? Now it’s COVID, but when did you start applying?
Nicholas: [18:26] I want to say probably in late January to mid-February area. Yeah, every year, we have a Design Expo we call it. It’s basically a career fair for all the design students on campus and unfortunately, that was disbanded because of COVID. However, usually, like 90 firms come or 90 companies come and you have a fairly good chance of receiving a job from there. Unfortunately, that was a really big block that we had, as a disadvantage.
ASR: [19:21] So what are your plans if an internship is not available immediately upon graduating, what are you going to do?
Nicholas: [19:27] That’s a tough question, I’m still trying to figure that out right now. I guess my plan would be to go back to the kitchen that I was working at over the summer. That’s like my way back up plan that I can do. However, that would be not the most…
ASR: [19:56] Progressive?
Nicholas: [19:57] Yeah.
ASR: [19:58] It’s not the most progressive way to build a career?
Nicholas: [20:05] Yeah.
ASR: [20:06] Perhaps it’s a temporary solution for now until you find a job. To just pay you a bit, right?
Nicholas: [20:10] Yes.
ASR: [20:11] But I’m asking what are your plans as far as keeping up with design and building your career, even when you don’t have a job?
Nicholas: [20:20] Oh, so that company I was talking about with my brothers. We have projects that we do.
ASR: [20:31] What projects are those?
Nicholas: [20:11] A lot of them right now are electrical, so we’re doing small electrical jobs just to get our feet moving and then we’re going to be expanding.
ASR: [20:47] Are they licensed electricians?
Nicholas: [20:49] Yeah, my brother is a licensed electrician. So from there, we’re logo designs, kind of just like odd work to get a…
ASR: [21:08] Something that you feel that your skills allow you to do right?
Nicholas: [21:11] Yes. I’m still able to use AutoCAD, my Adobe Creative Suite, like all of that. I’m still going to be drawing plans to show to clients, but not necessarily use as finalized plans. Just to be like, “Here’s an idea that we have, that we can’t obviously use these plans, but this is something representative to show you.”
ASR: [21:38] That’s it. Are you planning to do competitions and things like that, or not?
Nicholas: [21:43] That didn’t necessarily pass my mind at the moment. But yeah, that’s a really good idea. I wasn’t really thinking about that, but now that you say that, it’s definitely a good idea.
ASR: [22:06] Maybe it’s almost a good opportunity now to start studying on what makes a good beachfront.
Nicholas: [22:12] Yeah.
ASR: [22:15] Do all the necessary research on it.
Nicholas: [22:17] Yep. I have a couple books here about it actually.
ASR: [22:21] Yeah, you’ve got time now to get into it and start making some drawings of your own.
Nicholas: [22:29] Yeah, that would be definitely smart. I’m also going to get a look into the test to get licensed.
ASR: [22:47] Are you already registered for the test?
Nicholas: [22:48] No, but I just want to get a background and see what I can start doing now to prepare myself for the future.
ASR: [23:04] Ok. Excellent, Nicholas thanks so much man for the conversation. It’s been very helpful. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with me that I forgot to ask you about? Anything you think is important? Any advice to incoming students as an almost graduate now, as far as choosing architecture school, and choosing the right school for them, and all that stuff?
Nicholas: [23:36] Yeah. I would probably say that architecture is the thing that you’re going to love hating the most. It is the worst fun that you’ll ever have and just every opposite word you could ever find. Expect the longest nights of working, but the projects that you’re going to create our amazing, and the things that you do as an architect and as an architect student are really life-changing almost then. It’s definitely something that just expresses your creativity on a new level.
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