Michael McDonnell, AIA

AIA Pittsburgh's 2016 President!

By Posted on January 20, 2016

w-m-mcdonnellName: Michael P. McDonnell, AIA
Firm: IKM Incorporated
Family: Son Luke – 14 years old in 8th grade
Years in practice: 25 years
Education: Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture
Your first job: Lifeguard for the Recreation Department in Davenport, Iowa
Project you’re proudest of: The Ice Rink & Fountain at PPG Place. It transformed an otherwise unused public space.
What’s the best part of your job? The best part of my job is that every day presents something new. New design challenges, new technology, new clients.  I never really know what the day will hold until I am in the middle of it. It drives me forward with excitement.
What would you change about your job? I wish I could change the timeline projects typically have today. There always seems to be a rush to market for our clients. This often does not allow them to fully consider the options or give the design team time to cycle through the task of clarifying and refining design intent. I also wish we had more time to celebrate our successes. Seems like the wheel never stops turning and we are onto the next thing without fully appreciating what was accomplished.
What have you always wanted to tell your clients? You get what you pay for. We can’t sustain a thriving and innovative practice if we continue to be treated as a commodity. You are buying design services that will impact your lives and businesses for generations to come. Don’t buy our services like you buy toilet paper.
What’s the most annoying thing architects do? Indecision and hesitation to lead. Also overreaching on what Architecture can do. We cannot fix all of society’s problems.
Advice to young architects: Read, Write, Draw (and not with electrons…) You have to build the story of you and in order to do that you have to know what you like, what you are good at, and what is important enough to risk everything.
The one thing you wish they’d teach you in school: The importance of relationships. Very few great works are accomplished alone. You will need to have friends, and lots of them!
I belong to the AIA because: It allows me to contribute to the practice at the community level. It gives me access to good research and content through the learning communities, and I can pay forward the opportunities I was given by great architects in this city.
Favorite tool (can be digital, drafting, physical,…): Marker board to lead a facilitated conversation with project teams during design crit, proposal building, or interview preparation.
Favorite building: Unity Temple – Oak Park, Ill.  Lever House in NYC is a close second!
Favorite outdoor space: The platform deck in my backyard. It is a space I designed for my family and friends and I always feel relaxed and at home there. If I were pressed for a more famous space, it would be the High Line Park between the Standard Hotel and Whitney Museum. What a way to put a period on an incredible sentence!
Favorite indoor space: Grand Central Station, NYC. You can hear the passage of time there.
Favorite city: Rome, The Eternal City.
Favorite Pgh neighborhood: While I enjoy discovering what redevelopment has given this city and its many neighborhoods, I always come back to the East End as my favorite (Shadyside/Squirrel Hill). Hard to get past my CMU roots.
Best gift to give an architect: An evening out on the town with non-architects. I love architects, but I spend my whole day with them…
Wish list for downtown Pgh: Things are headed in the right direction. I don’t think I would add anything at the moment.
If you hadn’t become an architect, what would you have been? The only thing that ever gave me pause about the path I was on was computer science. The writing of elegant code is much like the design process we use with buildings. There is complexity, logic, elegance, and simplicity, plus architect and computer science majors seemed to keep the same hours.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where? Rome. I feel at home there like no other city I have visited.
Someday I’d like to: Have the courage to really stop and help someone I know is in physical need.
I want to be remembered for: Making a difference and being generous with my time to friends, family, and co-workers.
People would be surprised to know that: Yes, I am an adult, but I still prefer a big budget Sci-Fi movie to an art film!
The secret to my success: Learning to be humble without getting pushed around.
Where you live in Pittsburgh and why you think it’s great? Upper St. Clair. It’s all about the school district.
Something you’d like to learn how to build with your own hands: A wood fired oven for outdoor use.
What’s on your iPod/Pandora/Spotify? Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, OutKast, Jack White (& The White Stripes), Wall of Voodoo, Ghostpoet, Citzen Cope, The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes.
Favorite Kennywood ride: Jack Rabbit, definitely the Jack Rabbit.

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