Posts in Culture
TECHNE in 25: Q&A with Principal, Marco Ciccarelli
 
marc icon sans words.jpg

In honor of TECHNE’s 25 year anniversary, I sat down with our principal to discuss the past, present, and future of the firm.


Q: Before you made the leap to TECHNE, what were you doing before hand?

A: I was working for another firm and had collected a number of side projects. I had a full-time job and came home to another full time job. My administrative assistant asked if I would meet with her mother, who was a mechanical engineer working with a group of people on a small project.  I knew nothing about the project, but I met her mother Ruxandra for lunch - she will tell you to this day I was 20 minutes late (I was).  She described a small addition for a dining hall that a Romanian Orthodox Monastery in Michigan required in order to meet the needs of their community and the many visitors they received.  It was a surprise to learn there were active monasteries, and as we talked the project scope grew from a small addition into an entire masterplan. In understanding their needs, it became obvious that I could not do this project and keep my job.  They had a beautiful model of a monastery, which could have been built in the 1500’s in the Moldova region of Romania. I asked them, “is this what you want? A walled defensive, traditional style monastery?” and they said, “no, no, no!”, that wasn’t what they wanted at all – they wanted the monastery to be open and welcoming. From there we began to explore what that meant.

Q: So did you think you were prepared to dive head first into this?

A: I did. At that point, I was ready. I was running large multi-million-dollar projects and felt very comfortable leaving to start my own firm.  

Q: Hindsight is 20/20, looking back did you feel like you were prepared?

A: In hindsight, maybe it was hubris, I learned quickly all the things I didn’t know.

Q: So then what was it like to get your feet off the ground as a young professional with a new business?

A: Terrifying [laughs]. You leave the safety nets and the structure of a firm where somebody else is dealing with the nuances of the business, and you’re responsible for design and managing 3 or 4 clients. Suddenly, your managing that along with all the aspects of business. You think to yourself, now I’ve really stepped into it. At the same, I don’t think the risk was too great that if I failed, I would stop and go back to work for someone else.  

Dormition Monastery under construction.

Dormition Monastery under construction.

Q: How did you and Jim decide this was a path you wanted to go down together?

A: We had interned together at a firm in Akron, and then went our own ways to get our master’s degrees, and work for other people.  We continued to talk and meet for vacations. He was living in Florida; his wife had been accepted to Case Western for graduate school and was moving back and needed a job. I got him a job where I worked, and 6 months after I left, we were stable enough that he was able to leave his job and joining me in our first office, which happened to be in the spare rooms of my house.

Q: So what are the different spaces that you’ve been in?

A: We started in my house, which was great, but there’s nothing like an 8-pen plotter running every night until 3 in the morning to aggravate the household. We moved from there to Jim’s attic, then to a storefront on Lee Road. It was a cool space, we had 8 workstations, and back door access to the Colony Restaurant. It was great having the energy of Lee Road available. We could walk out our door and have access to all the merchants and restaurants.  I remember on some of our later work nights, people would wander in and ask us what the heck we were doing. It was interesting. We worked on a series of smaller projects at first, and the first bigger project was a school for St. Paul Church in Westlake. Our interview was a very novel concept, we sketched opportunities and potential solutions in the interview. It was very raw and engaging, and we walked out of there – a 3-year-old firm with very little experience - with the job. We were up against bigger and more established firms, and the message that making genuine connections with clients resonated with us. We outgrew that space and moved down Lee Road to an old Jewish bathhouse we renovated, from there to Little Italy and the spaces we now occupy at The Sculpture Center.

“We aren’t just putting up a building; we are making environments to support people as they grow, learn and develop. We need to inspire everyone to approach it that way.“

Q: That’s a nice way to keep your momentum going.

A: It was the realization that process matters. How do you make sure you truly understand your clients need, and that communication with them is clear and effective?  We’ve had that moment many times. At the monastery, everything they do is a prayer – washing clothes, making bread, weeding the garden – its all a prayer. Thinking about the responsibility of providing an architectural solution to a community where everything is a prayer, requires you to capture something beyond just bricks and mortar. This is the theme that we’ve carried for the last 25 years, this idea that architecture is supportive and a scaffolding for the growth and development of individuals and communities.

Q: It sounds a lot like, “Techne” -the art of making, that reflects that nicely. So what came first? The name or the process?

A: They both seemed to arrive at the same time. As an architect, we are making spaces for people to inhabit. It is the only reason to build.  How you build becomes as important as what you build. The firm name needed to reflect this, it needed to define a belief and mission. The ancient Greek philosophy of “Techne” – the art and craft of intentional making, aligned with our beliefs that architecture is a process- making a place that people can inhabit and experience as meaningful requires intention, an understanding of materials, how sunlight  fills and animates space, and how it supports its inhabitants.

roos+wedding+004_cropped.jpg

Q: We’re talking about Techne, the art of making, and the whole process of the monastery, with all the special moments that we’ve created, so what’s the deal with the Godzilla, a monster of destruction?

A: [laughs] That’s easy! Godzilla is the monster of destruction, born out of a nuclear reaction, a bomb, a mistake by man. It’s a reminder that we have a greater responsibility to ourselves and to nature.  Understanding our ecosystems and social systems are interconnected techne is a guide to making decisions to benefit our long term well being.

Q: How poetic. That covers the beginning phases of studioTECHNE, so looking back, did you envision studioTECHNE where it is today, and does it meet your expectation?

A: That’s a difficult question. Somebody recently said, “your 25th is coming up, that’s really exciting”. It is a milestone, but I really don’t know that I see it as exciting.  Life is about experience it’s a process and a journey. I see this milestone as another day in the journey. They also asked how many projects we’ve done? I have no idea! I’ve never thought to count, the number isn’t important, the work is, what did we make? How did the design solution help improve someone’s experience? Their final question was “what is my favorite project”? We have completed a lot of projects that I really love, work that I’m exceptionally proud of, but a favorite? I don’t know that we’ve done my favorite project yet, that is still to come.

Q: Do you think you ever will?

A: I also don’t know that I ever will [laughs]. There’s always compromise, and the goals of the project aren’t my goals, rather, they are a complicated arrangement of budget, client need and construction environment. There’s always a place where ideal meets reality. We are still growing and learning, and I hope will always will.  This isn’t a formula, there is no a+b.  Each opportunity is unique and dependent on so many factors. Moving forward into the next 25 years, our biggest focus is motivating people to understand and care. Working to help all the project team members (clients, engineers, contractors, suppliers, etc.) to understand the vision and the importance of what were doing,  We aren’t just putting up a building; we are making environments to support people as they grow, learn and develop. We need to inspire everyone to approach it that way.

“This is the theme that we’ve carried for the last 25 years, this idea that architecture is supportive and a scaffolding for the growth and development of individuals and communities.” 

Q: What didn’t you expect you’d have to do, but have inevitably fallen into as TECHNE’s principal?

A: I think the biggest thing that we’re still learning is how to convey the vision effectively, so that everyone moves in sync. We work with clients who build once every 20-50 years. Its understanding how to be a coach and a mentor, working with a diverse group of people and guiding them through a process. In school, you’re fed a diet of epic architects, who seemingly singlehandedly make works of art.  That’s not the reality. It’s a complicated collaboration. The job is understanding how to interact with everyone in a way that achieves exceptional results. Understanding how to guide a process where everyone does their best work and the project becomes something meaningful for our clients.

Q: There’s no doubt that what we do internally in the office is reflected in front of the clients, because of the way our relationships are. We [Techne] pride ourselves on culture and authenticity. How have you been able to encourage that and keep that spirit alive?

A: I think its just allowing the opportunity. Understanding that everyone is unique, and we all have our own drivers, history, and reason for being here, and letting everyone be true to themselves. I have a certain love for chaos and disruption (Godzilla). I try to guide that into a productive energy. I want the office to be a noisy messy place because through these spontaneous interactions, we do our best work.

IMG_5654.JPG

Q: What do you think TECHNE offers to clients that makes us unique from other firms?

A: Its our process. It’s the intensive initial period where we engage clients in a dialogue and develop a common understanding. What are the goals they need this project to accomplish? What is their culture, their mission and vision?  What is their community? Who are they trying to help? These discussions allow us to develop a set of specific and unique design criteria and project requirements. We aren’t just seeking to meet one need; a successful project is holistic. It supports mission and vision, meets financial goals, meets operational goals, and builds an organizations culture enabling their people to achieve their best.

Q: I could imagine running a business grants you with an equal amount of immense accomplishment and devastation, which would certainly take a toll on someone. How has this entire process, being the principal of TECHNE, changed you as a person?

A: I will answer that a different way … I have two kids. Early I realized they knew exactly who they were, and I had no idea.  I needed to learn who they were as individuals. My role isn’t to stop them from skinning their knees, but allow them to skin their knees, pick them back up, let them know they’re safe, that they’re okay, and provide them a safe space to learn, to fail. I am better able to lead this firm because my kids made me a better person. Running a business includes a lot of worries, concerns and sleepless nights. Overall, you’re trying to accomplish something bigger than the roadblocks. There will always be problems to solve, the art is not letting the difficulties stop you, but looking for better solutions. What needs to be done so that we can be successful?

Q: What do you see as success?

A: Success is a varied thing. For me, it is really about the work.  In the past 25 years, we have done wonderful projects for our clients, and we have been able to build a strong foundation for the future. Who we are is very established, and I am working with amazing people. What TECHNE does and is, the way it works with clients is exactly what I hoped it would be.

“You’re hiring us for our expertise, leadership, and stewardship. Knowing that the places we design are thoughtfully planned, experienced as meaningful, exceptionally well detailed, and easy to operate and maintain.”

Q: Then looking 25 years forward, where do you see Techne in the future?

A: In the future, I think we are a more regional company, we’re certainly moving that way, we are currently working throughout the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic states. We’ve developed a specific specialty over the past 25 years - we help clients through major organizational transformations, while architecture is the vehicle through which we do this, the real goal has always been about supporting people and communities and transforming places to build authentic culture.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is in the same position you were before you decided to start studioTECHNE?

A: Just come work for me. [laughs]. I pursued a dream. I think if you have a vision, and you have a passion, you need to pursue it. We’ve had a number of people who had that same dream and have gone on to start their own firms and studios. I was listening to a podcast the other day, and one of the comments that resonated, “At some point, we have to stop being just great companies, we also have to be great places to have been from, because that’s how you change an industry,,,”. When people left and started their own firms, we stayed connected, and provided guidance and advice.  We have been fortunate that very talented people wanted to work in our studio. If everyone one of them successful starts a firm of their own, our profession will be very well established for a very long time.

 
Working at TECHNE means all hands on deck…literally.

Working at TECHNE means all hands on deck…literally.

 

Q: Lastly, why should someone hire TECHNE?

A: We’re a collective of curious, creative, energetic, vigorous and artistic individuals who genuinely listen and become a true partner in our client’s project. You hire us because the places you work, worship, learn and meet no longer support you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your mission. There can be any number of reasons, your facilities are too expensive to operate, they have significant deferred maintenance, they do not support the change necessary for your organization to grow and succeed. Your hiring us because our project approach and process create a clear planning guide to implementing foundational change. You’re hiring us for our expertise, leadership, and stewardship. Knowing that the places we design are thoughtfully planned, experienced as meaningful, exceptionally well detailed, and easy to operate and maintain. Most importantly, our buildings are warm authentic places that seamlessly support individuals and communities and allow them to grow and thrive.

 

•••


 
PechaKucha: Aristotle, Emptiness, and Godzilla
 
bridge on fire2.jpg

PechaKucha is the Japanese format of storytelling, where the presenter shows 20 slides, 20 seconds each.

To honor the upcoming PechaKucha being held in Cleveland, we are throwin’ it back to our very own take. This particular presentation event occurs in cities around the world to give designers a platform to showcase their works, ideas, and stories. Marco, principal of studioTECHNE, had the opportunity to participate in 2013. Here he discusses, “Aristotle, Empitness, and Godzilla”…


“As was said, we’re going to talk about Aristotle, Emptiness, and Godzilla. These are the principles that we have based the firm around. It is our decision making and how we approach design and the design process.

First I’d like to talk a little about design.

Design is, at its basic sense, a collective. A collective intelligence that shows us and shapes the world in which we live. You can recognize it through the materiality of our objects, the environments in which we dwell, the visual communication that we share information, and the spaces that we inhabit.

Design is about ethos; it’s about values. It’s about the opportunity to support our capacity to respond to global crisis, our well-being, our survival. It depends on our ability to organize, innovate, design sustainable and holistic solutions, and solve the problems that we present ourselves in our world today.

18_Ciccarelli.jpg

Unlike anything, any time in our past, information sharing has become critical to supporting individual performance. Our ability to collaborate within the office expands our ability to think; it expands our ability to critically solve problems and it extends the limits each of us individually have as we design.

“Aristotle’s edition to techne - the idea of techne - is that techne becomes--something that becomes moral; becomes about our humanity. So as architects, as we start to think about making space, really what we end up doing is designing for emptiness.”

In 1994 when the firm was founded - this was back in the days of darkness - the internet was text-based and it was dial-up. It was a lot different and you had to go to the library to find information. We spent a day in the library looking at books to try to think about who we are, what we are, and what we wanted to do. We thought that – a business named after ourselves wasn’t intentional enough. How do we come to something that actually talks about the work that we’re going to do?  As we looked at Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the idea of techne - the art of making - became something that resonated quite clearly, and in that word--is the use of systematic knowledge to define solutions that represent human action. This isn’t basic cognitive making but it is transformative. It’s purpose is to produce an effect and emotional response. It allows us to inhabit space. Aristotle’s edition to techne - the idea of techne - is that techne becomes--something that becomes moral; becomes about our humanity. So as architects, as we start to think about making space, really what we end up doing is designing for emptiness.

 
01_Ciccarelli.jpg
 

Architecture as we practice it is a long process. It can take us 2-3 years to design a project from start to finish and get it constructed. But what that means, though, is time to think about the spaces that we make; that we’re not just building but we’re actually providing space that can enclose, liberate, suspend us, lead us through those spaces, places to contemplate, places to think.

Broken down in its most basic - stripped of its walls, its language, slabs, structure, etc - what you’re left with is emptiness. We can’t draw emptiness; we can’t plan emptiness. What we can do is draw its boundaries - start to think about what the resultant space is that we want--what we want to have as something that can be occupied. The space itself is dependent on our senses. It requires the perception of light, sound, texture, color, but most importantly it relies on human experience. It is in these spaces that we inhabit that we share, work, meet, greet, and provides meaningfulness to the things we do on a daily basis. When we think about these spaces that we design, we think about light, shape, form - all of these working together to impart a certain impression - invoke a sensation. We’re talking about memory. We talk about feeling. We talk about remembrance. In this case, though, we don’t draw emptiness. Emptiness is something that we experience; something that becomes meaningful. Within this emptiness we develop an understanding of place. As a result, our work has a certain minimalist quality about it; it depends on the observer. It also gives its impression that there’s something inside; that there’s a space to contain. That there’s a certain amount of opportunity within.

“As an allegory it is a reminder of balance. It’s guiding us to remember that while we work digitally - these must still be acts of our hand.”

Given these parameters, our clients come to us with budgets - a set of issues, a set of ideas. We have a site; we choose building tectonics, which is the means and methods of construction. We bring all of these things together into multiple parts that organize itself into a building that we are able to coalesce into something that has meaning.

11_Ciccarelli.jpg
12_Ciccarelli.jpg

In today’s society we’re multitasking; we’re moving with information all the time. We’ve moved from 256 characters with twitter to, as my kids tell me, 6 seconds for a Vine. This is our new eternity and danger.  We find a similar allegory at the beginning of the atomic age in film. 1954 Gojira (Godzilla). For us - this 15 meter tall force of nature created by human negligence - is an individual that has two goals: 1) destroy Tokyo 2) destroy any monster that’s trying to destroy Tokyo and then destroy Tokyo. Through advances in technology, he is defeated.  As an allegory it is a reminder of balance. It’s guiding us to remember that while we work digitally - these must still be acts of our hand. Building is still an intentional act. Decision-making happens as a result of very careful consideration. And as our hands move, we have time to observe what we’ve done, we’re able to think about these investigations. We’re able to think about the proper palette of materials - the way to organize space and that palette of materials – into meaningful places and spaces that our clients are really happy to occupy.

How do we measure success? Our project’s success results from having the spaces we’ve designed support activity that we didn’t plan, think about, and could never have expected. For instance, one of our projects, a pedestrian walkway, - inspired a dance company to choreograph a movement piece specific to our design and perform it on the walkway. Having the spaces we design have a life we couldn’t imagine but allows other to imagine is our greatest success.”

 
Dancers on CHUH Library Pedestrian Bridge

Dancers on CHUH Library Pedestrian Bridge

 

(I know you just read that entire thing, but if you feel like listening instead, check out the video below!)


This years PechaKucha will be held along Cleveland’s East bank, at Jacobs Pavillion, focusing on waterways. This free event will host speakers from around the world to discuss our most important resource. We hope to see you there!

Uploaded by PechaKucha Night Cleveland on 2013-08-26.
 
Material Space
 
_IMG_6036.JPG

Inhabit: to live or dwell in a place; to exist or be situated within.

Architecture’s ability to mediate experience has historically been tied to the inherent qualities of material form and function.  Digital media and new forms of visualization increasingly dominate our daily experiences, and what we experience as real is no longer just physical sensations. We become situated in an environment that is no longer material, and it rather exists as hybrid space apart from cognition and tangible experience. What is the role of formal architecture in supporting interactions in non-material space? What potential or operative qualities exist to enhance interpersonal interactions?  As immaterial stimuli overlay experiential space, what leverage do we have as designers to improve our surrounding environment and heighten our connections to each other and improve our shared experience?

design process

design process

“We become situated in an environment that is no longer material. This environment rather exists as hybrid space apart from cognition and tangible experience.” 

An installation in our studio allowed us the opportunity to formally explore an environment’s ability to change awareness and challenge the relationship between material and immaterial (it was also a great reason to invite friends over and have a party).  The exploration began with a daylight study that generated a form with data sets specific to the time of day and the narrowness of the space.

3d model of the space

3d model of the space

cut diagram

cut diagram

installation timelapse

installation timelapse

The surface undulates and conforms to the space reacting to activity zones, access points and the shade and shadow created by windows and skylights. The surface was divided into 64 labeled panels which were laser cut and installed. On the night of the event, the assembled form provided a surface for mapping texture, information, wayfinding in a way that altered visual relationships and allowed the space to be experienced in multiple ways.

IMG_2596.JPG
IMG_2599.JPG

Although we no longer have vibrant graphics or natural images projected on the canopy, it still suspends from our ceiling, and continues to be a topic of conversation.

 
TECHNE in 25: INTRO
 
photogrid - Copy.jpg

It’s hard to believe, but 2019 marks the 25th year of TECHNE. We have so much to be grateful for and so many exciting things to look forward to in the future.  Over the next several months we will be sharing TECHNE history, including an interview with our founder, projects that shaped the office, commentary from TECHNE alum, and inside stories from our current team as we approach our anniversary on August 15th.  (FUN FACT:  Three former employees share the same birthday with the office’s anniversary.  What are the chances?)  For now, we hope you enjoy a few photos of our last 25 years.    

 

Stay tuned! 

 
Field Notes: Tom goes to Seoul
 

On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea I couldn’t help but frame my experience in the fast-moving metropolis through the lens of someone accustomed to life in a comparatively calm Midwestern city. With more than 13x the population of Northeast Ohio, Seoul suffers from near-constant gridlock but benefits from a vibrance and, with it, the commensurate resources Cleveland hasn’t seen for nearly 100 years.

Like Cleveland, Seoul experienced rapid industrialization, urbanization, and subsequent suburbanization. As the city sprawled after the Korean War, so too did its infrastructure. Over a mere decade, urban and industrial infrastructure was choking the last vestiges of nature out of the core of the city- particularly in the dense and flat CBD.

Hoping to spur economic growth by providing new recreation options to residents and solve the city’s chronic runoff problems, officials decided to do something bold. They made the controversial decision to remove a massive arterial highway and replace it with a long, meandering park and stormwater mitigation system.

(Image- Donghwan-Kim)

(Image- Donghwan-Kim)

After 3 and a half years of work, Cheonggyecheon, has become one of the most popular green spaces in the city. One would be hard-pressed to identify the location of the idyllic watershed in photographs from just 15 years ago when the stream was culverted by a double-decker 8 lane expressway. What was once chocked from sunlight by layers of concrete infrastructure is now a healthy watershed replete with dragonflies, pelicans, and innumerable native plant species (marking an increase in overall biodiversity of 639%) and teeming with schools of fish.

 
 
View of pedestrian bridge across Cheonggyecheon

View of pedestrian bridge across Cheonggyecheon

Stones allow visitors to cross the stream from within the park

Stones allow visitors to cross the stream from within the park

 
 
Before

Before

 
 
Tourist map of Cheonggyecheon

Tourist map of Cheonggyecheon

 
 

While the park is only 7 miles long and 50’ wide, the economic, social, and ecological impact on the city has been astronomical. Summer temperatures around the perimeter of the park dropped 11 degrees and particulate air pollution by 35%. With more than 64,000 daily visitors- thousands of which are out of town or foreign- the surrounding owner-occupied buildings along the banks of the stream have found newfound success and increased economic stability thanks to the throngs of visitors.

“What kind of agency do we have as citizen-designers to push Cleveland towards a more sustainable, healthy future?”

Like Cleveland’s own public square, Cheonggyecheon is a perfect example of how re-evaluating public spaces and civic infrastructure can be fundamental to remaking a city. Similarly ambitious projects are in the works along Lake Erie, but I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of culverted watersheds and highway-bisected neighborhoods that dot Northeast Ohio. What transformative potential could projects like this-big and small- hold for Cleveland? What would happen if we continued to re-evaluate our public infrastructure? And what kind of agency do we have as citizen-designers to push Cleveland towards a more sustainable, healthy future?

 
Our 2700 Degree World

Engaging, appropriate, modifiable lighting is a critical component in creating successful spaces. The fascinating thing is that so few people are aware of the power of lighting.

Lighting temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin. In this case the word temperature is describing the color emitted by a light source. Imagine a candle flame and the range of colors from the wick to the tip of the flame. The color varies based on the differing temperatures across the flame. Incandescent bulbs radiate light energy and our current LED technology attempts to recreate that appearance. The important thing is matching the chosen light temperature to the activity and mood of the space being designed. This is true for every type of space.

When discussing light temperatures, we most often discuss options between 2700K and 6000K. If you’re anywhere near a designer, you’re going to hear some very strongly held opinions on which number is the best. You’ve found your way to our blog and therefore our opinions:

2700k is warm and cozy, approaching the color of candle light in feeling - this is where Danish hygge happens. 2700 and even the next step higher is the best for occupants’ skin tones and improves the mood of almost any space.

3500k is a bit cooler while still feeling in the ‘warm’ range, there’s still a tinge of yellow to the light. It’s acceptable, we’ll leave it at that.

4100K is starting to be crisper, a bit bluer even a little green. This can be described as more neutral but you’re reading the writing of people who think it’s fair to call it cold.

5000K is, in theory, simulating a bright sunny day. Let’s not even start.

6000K is called full sunlight. No. Just, no, not ever.

Lighting for movies and lighting in architecture have a lot in common. In movies, lighting can help the viewer understand how to feel emotionally. It can signify a specific mood and draw the viewer into the world of the story being created. How is lighting used in movies to make magic? Actually, to tell you the truth (and at Christmas you always tell the truth) it is all about lighting at the lower temperature. We have included a few images to illustrate our point. Ladies and gentleman, Love Actually: