Collage of architecture alumni

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Postgrad: Architecture Alumni Soar to Success

January 14, 2021

Pictured from left: Arianna Armelli (B.Arch. ’12), Matthew Acer (B.Arch. ’19), Lazlo Kovacs (B.Arch. ’18), Ishaan I Kumar (B.Arch. ’12), and Victoria Vuono (B.Arch. ’18)

While many graduates of New York Tech’s Bachelor of Architecture program successfully transition into positions at some of the world’s most top firms, others choose to continue their education in graduate-level programs at prominent Ivy League architecture schools.

“The new vision introduced by School of Architecture and Design Dean Maria Perbellini, M.Arch.—in rethinking and creating academic programs, in promoting extracurricular projects within an integrated and experimental perspective, in supporting our passionate, hardworking students and faculty—has offered possibilities for proactive collaborations and exploration that have made the entire School of Architecture and Design community not only part of the change but leading it,” notes Associate Professor and Chair of Architecture Giovanni Santamaria, Ph.D.

The Box caught up with five alumni and asked them how their New York Tech professors, classmates, and experiences inspired and prepared them to do, make, and innovate in the field of architecture, leading them to advanced degree programs at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as providing them with connections, memories, and more in support of what they aspire to achieve.

“It is so rewarding to see the success of our talented students,” says Perbellini. “At the School of Architecture and Design, we are seriously committed to guide, advise, and mentor our students through a nurturing and caring learning environment dedicated to excellence. Our New York Tech family will always be here to offer support through a lifelong connection.”

Matthew Acer (B.Arch. ’19)
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, M.S. in Advanced Architectural Design, 2020

Inspiration
While I was an undergrad, I was assisting a professor, an alumnus of New York Tech and Columbia, with archival research for a study abroad program. After we visited the Avery Library at Columbia, the professor suggested the program there—after that visit, I was convinced it was my next step.

I was inspired to enter the field by my late father, an alumnus of New York Tech. He ran a small architectural practice, and I became fascinated with the profession from when I was young.

Preparation
It is not just one New York Tech event, class, or professor that prepared me for my graduate program, but instead a summation of my whole experience. Many faculty and classmates have each had a unique and sizable impact on my life.

Aspirations
I am currently working as an architectural designer and preparing to take my registration exams to gain licensure. My goal is to be a practicing architect and open a small architectural practice.

Connection
I am in contact with faculty and classmates almost every day. The relationships I formed at New York Institute of Technology helped create the supportive environment and framework I rely on today.

Recollection
My most memorable experiences at New York Tech would include my travels abroad. I was fortunate enough to be a part of trips to Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, and Senegal. These studies were pivotal to my understanding of different cultures, arts, and architecture and helped prepare me for future academic/professional endeavors. I implore anyone entering the field to travel, explore, and expand their world beyond what they already know.

Arianna Armelli (B.Arch. ’12)
University of Pennsylvania, Master of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, 2018

Inspiration
I decided to attend grad school because I knew I wanted to start my own company and wanted to build a diverse network of colleagues from other professions. Where better than UPenn, with its top engineering, business, and design departments?

When the initial idea for my company came about, I was able to utilize all the university’s entrepreneurial resources—incubation hubs, startup grants, and co-working space—to get my business off the ground. In my case, I approached grad school as a means to a new career path while also continuing education in a field I loved: architecture and urban planning. 

Preparation
I met one of my greatest teachers, Giovanni Santamaria, at New York Tech. I was fortunate enough to land in his urban design thesis, which was a yearlong study focused on the rejuvenation of post-industrial landscapes. The thesis involved intense research, starting with geopolitical forces that trickle down into the economies of cities and how those geo-policies influence design and infrastructure. He is someone who taught me to question the obvious and to solve large problems through analytical approach. He has been a mentor to me for 10 years now, and whenever I need his advice or input, he never lets me down.

Aspirations
I’ve since left the architecture profession and have founded a tech company called Dorothy. We develop data analytics to better predict natural disaster events and property damage. We are currently working with real estate developers and insurance carriers. Our next goal is to streamline disaster insurance coverage for consumers and businesses.

Connection
I still grab dinner with Professor Santamaria when it’s not a global pandemic and attend his thesis reviews when I’m invited. The group of friends I made while attending New York Tech is a part of my family now.

Recollection
One of my favorite memories has to be our thesis trip to Italy with Giovanni Santamaria. We were a group of 16 visiting for 10 days, and he put together an itinerary for a month. This man can outpace a thoroughbred horse on his worst day. A distinct memory I have, is where all 16 of us were barreling down a hill, and he was leading the pack, racing to make our train to the next city while simultaneously spouting architectural history facts about each building we zoomed by. The entire trip was so well executed, and it remains one of my fondest memories.

I participated in the Rotterdam Bicycle Tour in 2010 with Nader Vossoughian, Ph.D., and Lars Fischer. Our class spent two months traveling through various cities via bike. The goal was to learn how the Dutch utilize their flat landscape to better design soft infrastructure and improve urban planning principles. This trip is where I learned how to design against imminent flooding and where to integrate public gathering spaces to serve as natural hazard barriers. Another noteworthy memory was my classmate, Stephanie Susanto, enjoying the entire trip while comfortably seated on the back of someone else’s bike because she did not know how to ride one—on a bicycle tour. She is still one of my best friends.

Lazlo Kovacs (B.Arch. ’18)
Columbia University, Master of Architecture and Urban Design, 2020

Inspiration
Basically, my thirst for knowledge in urban design drew me to this program. After researching all my possibilities, Columbia’s program seemed to be the right fit, given that it was very condensed yet covered all scales of urban design. It focused on everyday life issues taking in consideration social, economic, public health, and sustainability.

Preparation
The fourth-year urban design studio at New York Tech was really challenging because we hadn’t yet worked on such large-scale projects. It was the first year the professors were testing the so-called vertical studio, where graduate and undergraduate students were merged, creating one cohesive program. The professors were tremendous, and they were from different fields and schools. There was one professor in particular that constantly pushed us to test our limits. I didn’t always agree with his comments or appreciate the intensity of assignments, but by the end, I understood why I was being pushed so hard, and we turned out a beautiful project. I later ran into that professor on opening day at Columbia University, and we had another chance to work together.

The turning point from architecture to urban design happened when I attended the MIT-Metro Lab workshop in my last year of undergraduate studies. After that, I started working at DiDomenico and Partners, LLC, where I was fortunate to work on a large urban scale transit-oriented development project. This sealed the deal for me, and gave me the energy toward my goal of becoming an architect and urban designer.

Aspirations
Graduating in 2020, with all the negative predictions that lay before us, was quite challenging. My main focus lies in the public sector, where there is a greater need for help these days. Jobs were few and far between, leading some of us to start thinking differently. As a consequence, I partnered with my longtime New York Tech classmate and friend Victoria Vuono, and we’re working on our own small collaborative venture. We have a strong belief that collaboration across disciplines is the key to a prosperous future. Therefore, we are engaging in various competitions while we improve our skills. With perseverance, I can help the world be a bit of a better place.

Connections
After graduating from New York Tech, I was fortunate to work at the same firm as several of my classmates, and we talk regularly. We are able to keep in touch on social media and meet up occasionally. I also maintain a line of communication with several professors and attend their reviews on a somewhat regular basis.

Recollections
One distinctive New York Tech memory I have was the pleasure of working under the supervision of Italian architects Purini and Sagio during the Politico Newyorkese (A Vision for Roosevelt Island) workshop. It truly felt like being an apprentice for the masters. Their wealth of knowledge was impressive and left deep imprints in my way of thinking.

I was fortunate to attend several workshops through local and international programs as well, including Modular Disorder (Migration and Displacement in Germany), MIT-Metro Lab Initiative Workshop on Global Metropolitan, and the Puerto Rico Re_Start International Workshop, which focused on redesign/rebuild affected areas after Hurricane Maria.

Ishaan I Kumar (B.Arch. ’12)
University of Pennsylvania, Master of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, 2017

Preparation
The various flashes of landscape I experienced throughout my undergraduate curriculum and electives provoked an interest in expanding that subject further. Additionally, the city was rapidly changing as the High Line was being completed and Superstorm Sandy hit. I wanted to work on projects that dealt with these issues and the public realm.

Faculty such as [the late] Michele Bertomen, Farzana Gandhi, M.Arch., and Giovanni Santamaria exposed me to the importance of the ground plane and going beyond architecture as object. The biggest leap came in a thesis course with Professor Santamaria when I did a nose dive into landscape urbanism. The literature I read and the conversations I had with my classmates showed me that sometimes designing a building was just not enough. These thoughts continued as I started my career in architecture firms around the city.

Inspiration
A cliché answer about what inspired me to enter this field would be a childhood full of Legos and K’Nex, but I think it stems from developing an appreciation for buildings and the impact of public space in the city around me. I think the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic have shed a light on the importance of public space at all scales. I hope to continue building spaces that provide a playing field for us to interact and consider the entirety of the biodiversity around us. It’s not just about humans but also about the plants, pollinators, micro bacteria, and complex systems that we need to consider.

Connections
Giovanni Santamaria has been a cherished mentor and friend throughout the years. As for my classmates, we’re more of a tight-knit family than anything.

Recollection
I’m really grateful to have done a summer abroad program in Rotterdam. It allowed me to bike around the country and expand my horizons to a world beyond New York, triggering an obsession with traveling.

I was recently invited to speak on a panel organized by NOMAS [National Organization of Minority Architecture Students] titled “Pushing the Boundaries – A Discussion with Minorities in Architecture.” While the panel was an inspiring sharing of anecdotes among professionals, it was how I got there that moved me. A former student from an introductory visualization course I taught before going to Penn remembered me and invited me to participate based on conversations I had at the beginning of classes. A full five years later, it felt like a bow on a long trajectory with New York Tech.

Victoria Vuono (B.Arch. ’18)
Columbia University, Master of Architecture and Urban Design, 2020

Preparation
After graduating, I realized I wanted to work at a scale larger than traditional architecture. I wanted to develop my understanding of planning, landscape, and urban design as advocacy—concepts were introduced to me at the intersection of architecture at New York Tech.

I had no interest in graduate studies until my thesis year with Professor Santamaria. He expanded the definition of architecture to allow me to explore interest far beyond buildings and recognize how architecture can inform all types of space.

Inspiration
Growing up I watched my aunt build many houses, inviting me to see space not for what is was but what it could be. Going to architecture school gave me a whole new lens to see the world.

Aspiration
I hope to continue to research and design for community advocacy. Designers have a responsibility to not just their clients but also to all inhabitants: all people, plants, and animals. I will be joining the Columbia urban design faculty team this coming spring and will be continuing my work with the design advocacy collective, Territorial Empathy.

Connection
I see friends from New York Tech all the time. We’ve all been a great support network for each other after graduation and especially through 2020. I’ve actually started a design collaborative with my fellow graduate, Laszlo Kovacs. We’ve won some competitions and are currently working on constructing a design.

As cliché as it may be, working day in and day out with our studio-built bond is what I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Recollections
I was a member then leader of our AIAS [American Institute of Architecture Students] chapter. It was a fantastic experience to work with the administration as a student representative. I also enjoyed traveling with our chapter to AIAS to conventions across the country. It was great to meet architecture students from all over and explore cities I would have never found myself in.