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10 Questions With University Architect Greg Kufner

Behind all of the multi-million dollar renovations, buildings, museums, and classrooms is one man: Penn State University Architect Greg Kufner.

Kufner completed his undergraduate degree at Kent State University and has been working in the industry for the past 20 years. He has traveled all over the world and landed here at Penn State in his dream job.

To Kufner, there is a lot more to architecture than just sketching and designing buildings. He places a lot of value in teamwork and interacting with the community to figure out what would work best for them. We sat down with him to learn a little bit more about his job and why he believes he’s living the dream.

Onward State: How long have you been with Penn State? How did you get to your current position?

Greg Kufner: I have been here just shy of 2 years. I got to this position, basically working in the architecture industry for 20 years and then focusing my career doing buildings for college campuses. That really is what drove me to want this position. The ability to guide design on all Penn State properties is just a dream job for me.

OS: In your own words, how would you describe what you do for the university?

GK: First and foremost, I create a process to select the design teams that design our projects. That’s kind of the first thing, I put together a process that is inclusive of lots of different aspects. The second thing I do is really then work with those design teams, and the users — you know, whoever the users of the buildings are, whether it be faculty, students, or grad students, to just make the building its best possible self. Whether it’s on the performance side, or the way it looks, trying to make it as great of a building as it can be.

OS: If you could pick one property or project that has exceeded your expectations, which would you pick? What project are you most proud of?

GK: I think I am most proud that we have created a capital investment/capital planning strategy that will allow us to redevelop the Hammond and Sackett and engineering units site. Basically, we are going to build two new buildings so we can tear down Hammond and fix that whole piece of campus in like 10 years. I’m really proud of that.

OS: What future project are you most excited about?

GK: The thing I am most excited about in terms of future projects is realizing the precedence and vision, you know the university’s vision to build a new art museum. I think that is probably the most exciting because it is a dream for any architect to be involved in designing a museum, you don’t get to do that very often. Just knowing how respected the Palmer Art Museum is and how constricted for space they are, I’m just so excited to give them a new facility.

OS: Do you think the innovation and updates to modern technology have mad your job easier or harder?

GK: The one thing that technology helps with is we know for sure how things are going to look now. We have teams do virtual reality 3D walks throughs of the inside and outside of the buildings. The one thing I probably struggle with with technology, as I’m sure everyone else does, is how you disconnect because work always follows you.

OS: What is the planning process like for new ideas and new buildings? Is there a certain pattern you like to work through?

GK: To me, the critical thing for every project is starting a project with a really clear mission and set of goals. Basically then the entire project is delivering on that mission and those goals. If you don’t establish those things up front, then all you’re doing is you’re focusing on the wrong things, like how big are the buildings. I like to ask a lot of deeper questions, like why are we building this building, and what does this building need to do for this campus or specific user group?

OS: Where do you draw your inspiration from for some of the buildings around campus?

GK: I think it really comes down to two things. We ask ourselves, what’s right for the campus? So how does the building integrate with the campus, allowing students to flow through it or next to it, or how does it plug into the campus? Then it becomes, what is the right thing for the use of the building? To me, it is always really cool to get a view into the building and see what’s going on inside.

OS: Penn State’s architecture program is ranked 16th nationwide. Do you have any advice for future Penn State architects out there?

GK: Well, I’m not really an academic per se, so my advice would be different than a professor would give. My advice for future architects is to get some practical experience. Either start a firm or work for a firm, build your designs if you can with your own hands. Architecture is an art, but where it becomes real architecture to me is when there’s the creation of a building. I think too many architecture students graduate and have never actually built a building before, so there’s a steep learning curve.

OS: What is your favorite building or piece of architecture in the world?

GK: Probably in the States, it would be Falling Water, the really famous house in Pittsburgh. However, I also studied in Florence, Italy so to me, the whole city of Florence is the best piece of architecture I have ever seen.

OS: Finally, per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

GK: I don’t think I have a good reason why, but I think it would have to be a tyrannosaurus rex just because that was my favorite as a kid.

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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