Such Great Heights / Kate Szmurlo 


While walking through New York City, it's hard not to be amazed by the spectacular heights of the buildings. From the infamous Empire State Building to the historical Flat Iron Building, architecture engulfs the city. 

As an artist, I can appreciate spectacular architecture, but my friend Ross Pechenny spends his life creating it. I met Ross over the summer through an art and architecture program in Paris, France. I was the one artist amidst a group of talented and passionate architects from around the world.  

After moving to New York, I was pleased to find Ross in the city. Not only was I excited to have a good friend nearby, I was eager to discover New York City architecture through the mind of a New York City architect. 

In order to peer into the mind of such a talent, I made plans to meet up with Ross one Sunday afternoon. I thought it was quite appropriate when he decided to take me to the Brooklyn Bridge, one of New York’s famous architectural landmarks. In my opinion, it was the most ideal setting for an interview pertaining his architectural life. As we strolled down the vast, magnificent bridge, he shared his story. 

Pechenny described himself as a 25-year-old Brooklynite/immigrant living in Sheepshead Bay. He moved here from the West of Ukraine in 2004 and never looked back. "Originally, I moved here because my dad had been living here. Still, I fell in love with the city because it's so complex and multicultural and offers opportunities to develop yourself professionally and personally. It really is one of the best places to live … if you can handle it." 

NYC is dramatically different from where he grew up. "New York is exponentially bigger and more diverse," he said. “But it's interesting that within this huge city, New Yorkers mostly inhabit their neighborhoods with distinct identity that in scale are more akin to a small town.” In New York City, he discovered a city that always had something new and exciting to do, that always had a new experience.  As for architecturem Pechenny is a "kid in a candy shop," working as an architect in one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the world. "New York is a constant source of inspiration for me. There's so much history, so many examples to learn from. The city is a living and breathing creature so observing and analyzing the process that take place within it helps me be more thoughtful in my career." 

Pechenny attended The City College of New York for architecture. "I didn't know what major to go for in college," he began, "I wanted something related to art, but more practical. Architecture happened to fit that criteria." He now works at an architecture firm in New York's financial district. As I asked him to describe his day-to-day life as a working architect, Pechenny said he would sit at the computer drafting things on Autocad. "Not the most glamorous description, but seeing as I am only starting in the field, I am gaining valuable real-world work experience." 

His commitment to architecture stems from the satisfaction of  "creating something you can touch, something that will stand and be used by people long after we're gone, and hopefully make their lives better." The drawback to the work?  Mundanity. "I feel like the profession of architect gets romanticized—apart from the satisfaction of knowing you work towards something that will be tangible and can exist long after you, there are a lot of tedious things you have to deal with to design and build a good building. But Architecture is rewarding because it's really able to create something that will improve people's lives.  Also, unlike being a banker, you actually see physical manifestation of your work … if it gets built, of course." He laughed.  "It's not really great in terms of compensation. As an architect, you will spend hours and hours of working overtime to finish a project, but typically not get paid for it." 

I wanted to know the most challenging aspect he faces in his profession. “Probably the most challenging thing about architecture is keeping up with the deadlines. I hate deadlines, but someone said that deadlines are the source of inspiration for architects. I guess nothing would get done otherwise." 

Since Pechenny is an architect living in a city filled with so many inspiring buildings, I asked him if he had a favorite work of architecture. "I'm never good about naming my favorite anything because it takes me forever to think of something. I'll narrow it down though … my favorite building in NYC is in Brooklyn, the old Williamsburg bank building. For a long time, it was the tallest building in Brooklyn. It has a cupola and a clock at the top." 

As we continued to stroll across the wondrous Brooklyn Bridge, I couldn’t help but ask him where he saw his life in several years. "A degree in architecture makes you pretty versatile because the knowledge and abilities you gain can be applied in some form or another practically anywhere. That's why I think I will stay in the field or vicinity of architecture in one way or another. Not necessarily just in the practice of architecture, because the range of things I can do is pretty much unlimited." He also hopes to not only design great buildings and make six figures, but also go to grad school, and open his own architecture practice. 

Looking onto the East River, I asked Pechenny if he could change his career, what he would do instead. “Archeologist,” he says,"I love nature and history … and it might also involve architecture. So if you couldn't already tell, architecture is truly a passion of mine, so I think I'll stick with it. " 

Katelyn Smurlo is a Media and Visual Arts Major at Hope College.   She is currently interning at ICI (Independent Curators Internations) and Seventeen Magazine.