6 Ways to Give Your Life ‘Concept’


As illustrated by Bernard Tschumi, without concept, architecture is just a building. This, of course, is also true with life. Without identity, our lives lack meaning. Has anyone ever asked you, “Why did you choose architecture?” I’m asking you now. Dig deep. Deeper. It’s not because you like to draw. It’s not because you didn’t like engineering. And we’re certainly aware it’s not because of the huge paychecks. Once you challenge yourself to find your life’s concept, the design of it, so to speak, should come more easily. Particularly for young professionals, though it’s helpful at every age, knowing why you want to be an architect will direct you toward your passion. Turn that passion into a job, and that job into a career. When the day comes when you can no longer lift a pencil (or a mouse), you can smile, satisfied in your contribution to the world. Life after graduation can be intimidating, if not terrifying. Follow these six steps to help get you started on giving your life concept.

1. Contemplation and Decision

This probably seems like a no-brainer, but it might take more effort than you expect. Whether you’re a student, or you’re working, life manages to keep us quite busy. It’s necessary to make the conscience effort to sit down with the intention of identifying your passion. Hopefully, over the course of several years of education, this part will come to fruition sooner rather than later. It might take some time, so don’t give up. Grab a sketchbook or notebook and write to yourself, or talk to yourself out loud – however you work best. Here’s a few questions you should consider answering.


  • What brings me joy?
  • What am I good at?
  • Before I began my path to becoming an architect, was there something else I was passionate about? Can I bring that passion into architecture?
  • Why did I decide to go to school for architecture?
  • Are there any current issues that pique my interest?
  • If I could teach someone how to do something, what would it be?
  • If money was no object, what would I do with the rest of my life?

2. If you haven’t graduated yet, pick your thesis topic wisely.

Whether it’s your undergraduate thesis, or your M.Arch thesis, this is the perfect opportunity for your to dedicate time to research something that you think you might be passionate about. If it’s helping children learn and grow, you might decide to study how a school can enhance their education. Or perhaps if you’re interested in bringing holistic design to third world countries, you might choose to study how to capitalize on the use of local materials. Use your results from step one to help you decide.

3. Build your brand.


As you solidify what it is you’re passionate about, you can start to build your image around it. This isn’t dissimilar from when we design a project. You start with a concept, and use it to influence your design. While companies use branding as a marketing tool, you can use branding to market yourself when trying to find work. A good place to start is a mission statement. Verbally communicate what it is you’re passion about, and what your mission is. Then you can reinforce it by visually tying together all the components of your package through different graphic styles. This includes your cover letter, resume, business card, portfolio, thank-you letter, and whatever else you include. Unifying all of these elements reads as organized, confident, and prepared.

4. Build your portfolio.


For someone seeking work, this is a very important step. Every interview that I have ever been on has started off with, “Why don’t you walk me through your portfolio?” This is a wonderful blessing if you’re prepared for it, or a nightmare if you’re not. This is where you have the most control because you’re given the opportunity to tell your narrative. Have this in mind when you’re building your portfolio. Think about which projects reinforce your passion and your mission statement, and what order they should go in. This portfolio represents you, and your identity. If something is random or doesn’t quite jive with the story you want to tell, then perhaps it’s best that it’s removed.

5. Go for that dream job. Be passionately aggressive about it.

Don’t be all talk and no action. Know that you have value – find a place that will appreciate that. Use your passion to direct you as to what type of work you want to do, then go forth and own it. All of this thinking and preparing is useless without execution. You might even fail a few times, but not without learning something along the way. There is virtually no penalty for taking big risks here – either you succeed, or you learn and grow.

6. Become both teacher and student.

Don’t ever get comfortable. Stasis is the enemy here. Find new ways to grow and evolve. Use your passion to build yourself an empire that you’re proud to put your name on. Never stop learning, and when given the chance, teach. Pass your passion along to others and let it live on through them. Let your concept be your legacy.

When it comes down to it, the world doesn’t need more architects. The world needs more happy people.

Find your happiness.

Give your life concept.


By Nicholas Fucci

Living Buildings

An architect’s purpose is to shape the world in which they live; each structure designed is a monument to the time, place, and culture in which it was built. During his first visit to Montgomery Mill in Windsor Locks, CT, Max Ballardo of Crosskey Architects observed that time inscribes decay, nature regains its natural habitat and inserts itself into a building forgotten by men. It’s a reminder that nothing lasts forever and nature reclaims what man builds.

Thus, the preservation of this 140-year-old icon is a testament to our dedication to respect industrial development and those who participated in the design and construction. The Montgomery Mill is a building that, in its conception, was brilliantly sited and tied to the surrounding landscape. Even after being abandoned for some time, Max could see past all the years of neglect, vegetal growth and water damage to the building’s true potential.

When entering this space and looking through a window into the Connecticut River you can see how nature has merged into this building as this factory likely did in the Windsor Locks day to day working society. Once part of the neighborhood, this historical building is one with nature. Lets salvage it and reconnect it to its people while preserving its site connection to nature.

With a new holistic design scheme, this old mill can be transformed and used as a tool to teach, to comfort, and to reinforce the connection between man’s desire/need for technological advancement and nature.

Time inscribes decay, It’s inescapable. However, given the opportunity to protect the history of buildings, like Montgomery Mill, we have the ability to postpone deterioration and bring life back to a vacant building. By preserving our tangible, architectural heritage, we give future generations time to experience our past and use that knowledge to create a better future.


By Max Ballardo, MDes Int. Arch.

Hotel America (5 Constitution Plaza) – Hartford, CT

Hartford embraced ideals of urban redevelopment and responded to the Connecticut Redevelopment Act of 1945 and the Federal Housing Act of 1949, and created the Hartford Redevelopment Agency in 1950. These acts incentivized the clearance of entire inner-city slum neighborhoods in many historic cities across the country to make way for urban renewal projects. Hartford identified areas for redevelopment and targeted Hartford’s East Side neighborhood, Constitution Plaza. Designed by noted modern architects Curtis and Davis, Hotel America was completed in 1964. A major component to the Constitution Plaza complex, it’s the first urban renewal project in Connecticut. In 2012, Hotel America was one of the first, if not the first, modern building to be listed in the State Register of Historic Places.

In January of 2011, the vacant building was purchased by 5CP, LLC, a consortium with Girona Ventures, LLC and Wonder Works Construction and Development Corporation, as primary managing partners. Crosskey Architects collaborated with the developers to convert the hotel, now referred to as Spectra Boutique Apartments, into a multi-housing project consisting of 190 units with a mix of 54 studios, 123 one-bedroom, and 13 two-bedroom units. The developers selected the building because of its prime location in downtown. The Front Street District, Connecticut Science Center, Convention Center, restaurants and entertainment venues are all within walking distance. Large windows made the building more attractive for redevelopment, allowing abundant natural light to flood living spaces and affording breath-taking views of the city and the Connecticut River. Inspired by 1960s colors and finishes, the interior designer created warm and inviting spaces respectful of the Modern-era. During construction, massive steel trusses were uncovered and celebrated as a design feature.

The layout of the second floor was the most challenging aspect of the design because of the lack of windows and the two, 103-ton steel trusses that support the structure over Kinsley Street; the largest steel members ever erected for a building in Connecticut. The space was used for resident amenities not requiring natural ventilation (i.e. theater room, library, community/billiard room, fitness center and exercise room. Live/work units with adjacent office space were introduced to the second floor to efficiently use dead space.

Hotel America was part of Hartford’s first urban renewal initiative to revitalize the downtown, which resulted in part the loss of Hartford’s architectural heritage. Ironically, the loss of historic fabric and a vacant lot yielded one of Hartford’s most important modern buildings. Hotel America is a testament that modern architecture is an important marker in our architectural history worthy of preservation. Perhaps the greatest parody is the building, based on architectural significance, was listed to the NR at 48 years-old, two years short of meeting the fifty-year threshold. Hotel America is an important achievement in Hartford’s architectural and planning history, representing a shift in preservation thinking about the significance of the Brutalist style. Two very different planning philosophies prevailed to create a great icon. An urban renewal pioneer in the 1960s, the building is once again part of Hartford’s revitalization.


By Nina Caruso, MSHP

36 Lewis Street – Hartford, CT

In 2013, Equity Trust Company was looking for a property in downtown Hartford when developer David K. Elwell, IRA came across a flyer for 36 Lewis Street. The proximity to Bushnell Park, Union Station restaurants and entertainment venues made 36 Lewis Street an ideal candidate for rehabilitation. David Elwell and Crosskey Architects collaborated to create a design that would respect the historic character of the building, which was the intent from the project onset. The one-story addition on the south side was removed, and the remaining space was converted to six townhouse apartments consisting of a mix of 4 one-bedroom units, and 2 two-bedroom units. Trusting Crosskey Architects to lead the way, David drew inspiration from the architect’s ideas to help finalize the unit layouts, which included high-end appliance, cabinetry, and flooring. The exterior of the Greek Revival house was restored and the non-historic additions were altered to accommodate the new residential layout.

As with any historic rehabilitation, there are always unknowns. During construction, unforeseen structural repairs needed to be made to the roof structure because of the improper installation of tension rods. In effect, the brick walls began turning outward requiring wood strapping. Unit A needed to be redesigned after interior walls were demolished exposing columns. Original Greek Revival woodwork was retained and integrated with new modern finishes.

The financing Structure for the redevelopment of 36 Lewis Street includes a construction/permanent loan from the Connecticut Region Development Authority and state historic tax credits. The development team is very proud that 36 Lewis Street is no longer the only vacant building on Lewis Street. The occupancy of this building will bring back the sense of community Lewis Street once had. Turning 36 Lewis Street back into residential use was the best decision for the block. Residents can enjoy open space in Bushnell Park, and can choose from many local dining options. 36 Lewis Street is truly one of-a-kind, located in a historic residential, pedestrian neighborhood downtown!


By Nina Caruso, MSHP

The Chimes Building – Syracuse, NY

crosskey architects (www.crosskey.com)

Early this winter, the Crosskey’s team headed to Syracuse, New York to assess and document the Chimes Building. Built in 1929, the Art Deco style building is located at the corner of West Onondaga Street and South Salina Street. The chamfered building corner gives the building prominence at a vital intersection and serves as a visual terminus for Salina Street. Shreve Lamb Harmon, architects of the Empire State Building, collaborated with Frederick O’Connor of Syracuse to design the twelve story office building. The building was famous for its chimes, which struck every fifteen minutes and whenever Syracuse University won a football game. The chimes were discontinued after World War II.

The building is a very good candidate for redevelopment as a mixed-use project, providing much needed housing in downtown Syracuse. The retail/commercial spaces at the street level will remain but will be reconfigured. The second floor will be redeveloped with twelve (12) one and two-bedroom flats, a community room, fitness room, and leasing office. On floors seven through twelve, each floor will be converted into twelve (12) one and two-bedroom flats for a total of 81 units combined. The third through sixth floors were previously converted to apartments.

The sound of the chimes no longer reverberates off the buildings along the Salina Street corridor, however, the Art Deco style building is a reminder of a significant movement in architecture. As we leave the past behind and move ahead in changing times, the Chimes Building will be rehabilitated to insure its long-term preservation. A graduate of Syracuse University, Mr. Crosskey, is excited to return to Syracuse to do what we love in historic preservation and community revitalization.


By Nina Caruso, MSHP

Welcome to TraceSpace

Years of dedication to the profession, hard work, and commitment to client satisfaction has created inconceivable opportunity, which has lead us to turn the page of a new chapter. The collaborative process is at the core of our design philosophy and inspired this blog to become a blank canvas, a safe place for us to talk about ideas, opinions and thoughts. We are excited to share our passion for what we do with old friends, new friends, and colleagues and look forward to discovering (or rediscovering) new ideas. We invite you to share in our journey to inspire and transcend the design process, and encourage you to work with us to harness the energy that flows from collaboration. Together, we will fill the pages with concepts worth exploring. Welcome to TraceSpace!