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Working Lives A problem solver with artistic flair

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

As a youngster growing up in Galway, Brian Connolly was interested in art and buildings, but he didn’t know what the word architect meant. “I thought I wanted to be an engineer because that’s what I associated with buildings,” he said. “But I got one of those blue Department of Labor pamphlets about different careers, and when I read the one about being an architect, I said, that’s it.”

Connolly is currently vice president of Zivkovic Associates Architects, whose offices are on the top floor of a converted loft building in the western end of SoHo in Manhattan. The firm gets its name from Don Zivkovic, an Australian architect from Perth whom Connolly met through Irish friends in 1987. Like Connolly, Zivkovic had also come to New York seeking architectural design opportunities.

“I found we had similar ideas about where we wanted to go with our careers,” Connolly said. “My interest was in doing small buildings, schools, churches and community-type buildings. Also, both of us had an interest in the environment.”

Although Connolly does not rule out working on skyscraping mega-type projects in the future, he prefers, for now, to work on smaller endeavors. “I would rather learn from a high turnover of small projects than have fewer experiences with large building types,” he said. “I am more interested in making a contribution to the streetscape than to the skyscape at this stage. Some of our most successful projects are ones where we were forced to be inventive and that we learned the most from. Even a small thing can be a gem in its own right.”

Connolly was born in San Francisco almost 40 years ago. “My parents had immigrated in the ’50s and returned to Ireland in the ’60s,” he explained.

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He was raised in the seaside village of Barna, Co. Galway, and studied architecture for five years at Bolton College of Technology in Dublin, graduating in 1981. He later received a bachelor of architectural science degree from Dublin’s Trinity College and, in 1995, he became a member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland after passing the institute’s exams with honors.

When he moved to New York in 1986, he began working for Arnold Syrop Architects. After almost three years, he left to travel in Europe, where he spent four months sketching, painting and visiting the historical and contemporary architectural works that the continent has to offer.

On returning to the U.S. in 1989, he joined Zivkovic. In 1993, the firm won four of 22 national design awards given by the Society of American Registered Architects. Since 1990, the firm has won 21 national and local design awards, including a prestigious prize from the American Institute of Architects.

At present, Zivkovic Associates Architects has more than a dozen staff, seven of whom are architects, and handles commercial, residential, government and corporate work. Projects the firm is currently working on range from small, 700 square foot ones to a master plan for private school on Manhattan’s upper east side. “We deal with landmark restoration, high-end residential, retail, corporate interiors, brownstone renovations, and we also do industrial product design,” Connolly said.

In residential projects, Connolly says his most notable achievement has been the multi-million-dollar extension and modernization of a Greenwich Village town house for a member of the vermouth-producing Cinzano family. Connolly’s design for St. Mark’s Bookshop, a bookstore catering to the interests of Manhattan’s East Village bohemian community, garnered several national and international design awards..

As an architect, Connolly is indeed an artist, but he emphasizes that first and foremost he is a problem solver. “Part of the problem is spatial, part financial, social – how people relate to one another in an area – and then the unquantifiable factor you add is the creative one,” Connolly said. “I think a good solution should look self-evident at the end of the day.”

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