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Profile: Matthew Bronski Assoc. AIA

Name: Matthew Bronski Assoc. AIA
Job title and company: Associate principal, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Degree(s): BS in Civil Engineering, MS in Historic Preservation, MArch
Professional interests: Building enclosures and structures, historic preservation, figuring out how old buildings really work and why they sometimes fail.

Matt is presenting A71 What Would Gropius Do?: Restoring Modernist Icons and B04 Assessing and Rehabilitating Mid-Century Modernist Concrete Facades at ABX. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on some really interesting projects right now with some really good architects, including the rehabilitation/restoration of both traditional historic structures and Modernist concrete icons—among them Eero Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium and MIT Chapel (with EYP Architecture & Engineering); Josep Lluis Sert’s Boston University Law Tower (with Bruner/Cott & Associates); and the Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo, New York (with Goody Clancy, Deborah Berke, and Flynn Battaglia Architects).

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

I’m a “building doctor” who figures out what’s wrong with buildings and how to fix or restore them.

What inspired you today? 

The beauty of the autumn leaves dropping to the ground all around me on a clear, sunny day, with a chill in the air. Autumn’s beauty always reminds me both of the ephemeral beauty of a fleeting moment and of the timeless beauty and eternity of the cycle of the seasons. The greatest architecture aspires to both.

What industry buzzword would you kill? 

 “Sea change.” Not the term itself—I’m all for Shakespeare (who coined it in The Tempest)—but I’d love to kill its overuse and misuse in business and political circles. (It does not mean a sudden, complete change.) 

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

Absolutely.And I consider my colleagues to be not only my co-workers and clients and fellow design professionals but also the contractors with whom I’m working and collaborating on the actual construction.

What are you reading? 

I’m finally reading a copy of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad that a friend handed me when I had just returned from a year spent overseas. Many of Twain’s observations of the European cities he visited almost 150 years ago are still relevant and hilarious today.  

Do you sketch by hand or digitally? 

I sketch by hand, every day, often as part of collaborating and sharing ideas with my colleagues and clients. To me, freehand sketching is an essential part of my thinking process that neither digital sketching (in the case of something new or imagined) nor photo taking (in the case of something existing) can even begin to replace.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect? 

Yes, on a truly amazing, wonderful year spent living in the eternal city of Rome with my wife and (then) baby daughter, on a midcareer sabbatical. I spent the year climbing over the scaffolds of incredible buildings that were under restoration, buildings from the first century AD in Ercolano Scavi to Renaissance-era buildings designed by [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini, [Francesco] Borromini, and [Andrea] Palladio. As amazing as the professional learning experience was, what I cherish just as much if not more were the friendships I made along the way and the way my family and I—as foreigners with limited command of the language—were embraced and made to feel at home by the locals in our neighborhood and by my Italian professional colleagues. The day before we left, my family and I walked all around our neighborhood to say goodbye to our friends who worked at the neighborhood bread bakery, cheese shop, pasta shop, pastry shop, gelato shop, etc.

Where is the field of architecture headed? 

When the pendulum swings so far one way, it inevitably swings back the other way. As I wrote with Kiel Moe AIA in ArchitectureBoston’s UnModern issue [Winter 2010], after decades of ever-increasingly complex, fussy, and often problematic building enclosures and systems, some leading  designers (particularly in Europe) have started a counter-revolution toward less complicated, less fussy, less problematic, “lower-technology, higher-performance” design and construction. I think you’ll see more and more of this movement in the years ahead.

Can design save the world? 

The world is facing a lot of really serious challenges, including global climate change. Design alone can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but it can certainly contribute in some way to helping to solve or alleviate many. To paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, “If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.”

What do you hope to contribute from your work? 

I hope that someday, when I’m long gone, someone who doesn’t know my name and never did will walk by an old building I helped to save, admire it, and be thankful that it’s still there.

Who or what deserves credit for your success? 

My mother, who encouraged me to do something that I love; my late father, an English teacher in the Boston Public Schools, who taught me to write well (a skill I still use daily); and many professional colleagues who have taken an interest in me, mentored or encouraged me at critical points along the way, foremost among them Werner Gumpertz of SGH, Henry Moss AIA of Bruner/Cott, and Jean Carroon FAIA of Goody Clancy.

Your least favorite college class? 

Circuits (an electrical engineering class). I vastly preferred the engineering courses on things I could visualize, [such as] physics, structural analysis, and mechanics of materials.

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be? 

Let’s make it the me-of-30-years-ago, when I was just starting college, unsure what I wanted to study or do for a living. “Figure out what you really love, then figure out a way to do it for a living, then every little thing’s gonna be all right.” That was pretty much the advice my mother gave me at the time. She was much wiser than I realized when I was 18.

Your favorite Boston-area structure? 

Trinity Church and Fenway Park. Both quintessential Boston, both remarkable in their own way, and both places that when you walk through the portals and glimpse the beauty of what’s inside, it’s hard to imagine you’d rather be anywhere else.

Who would you like the BSA to interview next? 

Kiel Moe AIA of the Harvard GSD.

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be? 

Back to the Future! Our next guest thinks the most valuable, most relevant principles for designing sustainable, resilient, contemporary buildings today are, oddly, to be found by studying buildings that are at least 200 years old.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Wag more, bark less.