Greg Kochanowski (B.S. Arch '93) has been promoted to Principal at Rios Clementi Hale Studios in Los Angeles, CA. He joined the firm in 2007 and combines the techniques and strategies of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design to create forward-thinking environments. He was a recipient of the prestigious Young Architects Forum Award from the Architectural League of New York. He is currently senior lecturer at Otis College of Art and Design. From 1993 to 2013, he held several positions as a lecturer, faculty, and adjunct faculty member at various institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles; Southern California Institute of Architecture; Woodbury University; and the Boston Architectural Center. Rios Clementi Hale Studios has earned an international reputation for its collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach, establishing an award-winning tradition across an unprecedented range of design disciplines. Since 1985, the architects, landscape architects, planners, and urban, interior, exhibit, graphic, and product designers at Rios Clementi Hale Studios have been creating buildings, places, and products that are thoughtful, effective, and beautiful.
What program and what year did you graduate from?
1993 B.S. in Architecture
What was the first position you took after graduation?
After graduating, I moved back to Boston and took a position at a small, single-person firm doing high-end residential work. I also started teaching undergraduate studios at the Boston Architectural Center. The initial job only lasted a year, and then, I moved to a medium-sized commercially oriented firm, but kept teaching until I moved to Los Angeles, CA, in 1997.
Tell me about what you are doing today?
Currently, I’m a Principal at Rios Clementi Hale Studios, an award-winning, multi-disciplinary firm located in Los Angeles. We take on a wide range of project types of varying scales and complexities from architecture to landscape, urban design to interiors, graphic to product design. I’m also a Senior Lecturer at Otis College of Art and Design. My studios at Otis are along a similar vein as my professional work, focusing on the synthesis of architecture, landscape, and urbanism.
How did Tyler Architecture prepare you for this?
When I went to Temple, the Architecture department was aligned with the School of Engineering, not the School of Art. When I entered, I really had no idea what it meant to be an architect. I mean, I knew in the general sense—constructing buildings, etc.—but not the design or conceptual underpinnings. I was fortunate enough to have some great instructors, who not only opened my eyes to the likes of Rossi, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Venturi, Eisenman, Kahn, Le Corbusier, Libeskind, and the like, but also instilled in me a rigor and intensity of working that I carry to this day. Architecture is a tough profession, and you have to really love it. The program at Temple brought out that passion in me, and allowed me to see architecture not as merely a profession, but as a way of living and thinking.
How did you get where you are today?
That’s a long story. In short, as with most things, it’s a combination of luck, hard work, being true to your values, keeping clear goals in mind, and letting life take you in directions you didn’t expect. I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to go to grad school at UCLA. I chose L.A. because it is so different from the East Coast, and I wanted a new experience. After graduating in 1999, I went to work for a former professor of mine, who was primarily interested in issues relating to architecture and urbanism. We entered a competition, in collaboration with Rios Associates (the former name of Rios Clementi Hale Studios), for the Fresh Kills landfill, located in Staten Island, NY. I was the lead designer on the project, and, as the project was primarily landscape, this was a big shift for me. But I fell in love with it, and realized that issues relating to landscape were inextricably connected to those of architecture and urbanism. It also introduced me to Mark Rios, who, although I would not join his firm for another seven years, became a person I started to watch, and that I admire to this day. In the interim, I worked for Hodgetts + Fung, an important critically oriented firm in the L.A. community. Craig Hodgetts is a virtuoso with an eccentric mind and an ability to make connections and take chances outside of mainstream conversations. We built some great projects while I was there, and I still carry those sensibilities with me today.
All this time, I was also pursuing my own work through competitions and the occasional freelance project. I started to get some notoriety, and was fortunate enough to be awarded the Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York. During this time, I was also teaching at UCLA, SCi-Arc, Woodbury University, and participating on juries across the country (essentially, where I had friends). Teaching became—and still is—an important part of my thinking about architecture. There’s nothing like having to explain ideas to someone, or give a critique, to help you clarify your own thinking. Also, I love seeing that spark in a student’s eye when he/she sees the world in a new way, or connects with a part of themselves that might be dormant. In 2006, my wife and I had a daughter. My wife had to leave her job and I wasn’t making enough to support all of us. So, I took a position at HOK—solely for the money. It’s the only time that I’ve taken a job for the money, and it will be the last. I was only there for six months when I received a call from a friend of mine (the HR director) at Rios Clementi Hale Studios. They needed a senior-level person, and they were a perfect match with my interest in the synthesis of architecture, landscape, and urbanism. I haven’t looked back since, and nine years later, I was made a Principal at the firm.
What one piece of advice would you give a current undergraduate student?
Be true to yourself and think big, but also embrace failure. It’s typically a bad word, and discouraged, but really the only way you learn is to try, and try again. Architecture is a practice dependent on artifacts, drawings, models (digital and physical), full-size mockups, and sketches. It’s only through this active engagement with the work (making and doing) that you’ll get anywhere. In addition to this, you should absorb as much information as you can by reading, looking at precedents, going to lectures and exhibitions, and actively talking among yourselves. Give each other critiques, and don’t be afraid to take criticism or dish it out.
What do you wish you had taken advantage of while at Temple?
At the time I was at Temple, I wish there was a more direct connection with Tyler School of Art. I took multiple classes in printmaking, which helped me shape some of the ideas I was exploring in architecture, but being more immersed, and adjacent to the art department, would have been great.