Architect happy to double as project developer
Architect Ben Maguire is proud of the two homes he designed and built in Lawrenceville, but admits he would like to have a project sometime that “didn't leave you feeling crazy half the time.”
The reason for his mental torture is clear. He was acting as more than simply the architect; he also was the developer, arranging financing to get the job done and being something of a general contractor watching over each stage of the work.
It is a role that is new for architects yet gaining popularity. He is joining the likes of Justin Cipriani, who has built condos in Mt. Washington in the same fashion and is planning a nearby neighborhood also in that role.
“I really like the idea,” says Maguire, 31. “I'm looking around here for other places to work on, and, of course, it would be great to do it in the South Side or Shadyside.”
When an architect acts as developer, that designer can make sure the house is built just as it is supposed to be. The designer does not have to get in arguments with the firm putting up the building. The architect-developer also can make sure all the elements — from doors to wallboard — meet his standards, Maguire says.
He credits Jonathan Segal, a San Diego architect/educator, with being a key inspiration. Segal has been advocating that duality of work since the early 1990s and gave a seminar on the topic about five years ago that Maguire attended on the West Coast.
Segal says the architect-developer role is a “win-win” situation for the designer as well as the homebuyer. It boosts creativity and ensures the architect's work will be done as he sees it. It also assures the house will be built better, he says.
Kelly and Alisa Compeau bought one of the units before a board was laid, solely on Maguire's plans. Kelly agrees with Segal's enthusiasm and says working with Maguire allowed them to make changes in the plans to better suit their desires.
They made the tandem garage a basement and turned one of the bedrooms into a den with a half-wall that overlooks the atrium staircase in the middle of the home.
“He would always say things like, ‘Sure, we can move this wall out 8 inches,” Kelly Compeau says of Maguire.
Dante Fusaro, a project manager with the company that was the builder on the project, agrees and says the job was made easier because “Maguire acted in so many roles.”
Fusaro works for O'Hara-based P.W. Campbell, a 102-year-old firm that generally works on commercial buildings but made its entry into Lawrenceville residential work on the project.
The work on what was a vacant lot on Ligonier Street speaks to the creativity Segal believes comes from the dual role of the architect-developer.
The two Maguire-designed homes sit on a crowded, curving street that overlooks Penn Avenue — and some new homes along Penn.
They are angular, minimalist structures with block stone bases and tops with durable fiber-cement siding. Decks overlook the Allegheny River Valley from the first floor; roof decks are two stories above and provide a look at Downtown to the west and the rooftops of Lawrenceville and St. Augustine Church to the east.
Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of the Lawrenceville Corp., says to two homes “speak to the momentum of the neighborhood.” Rather than being redone versions of older row homes that are the neighborhood's history, they are new structures.
Mario Costanzo, a Howard Hanna real estate agent who worked on the sale of one unit, says the modern look is “far form the shot-and-a-beer place Lawrenceville used to be.”
They are being sold for $399,000, a price that is high for old Lawrenceville but common in the current market.
Each unit is only 18 feet wide, but they have 2,000 square feet of space, which creates a vertical nature — and steps.
Short staircases lead to one bedroom, then to the second, then to the third and finally the roof deck. Stairs also lead down to the tandem garage, which will hold two cars end-to-end.
Maguire admits the homes are not for every buyer. “An older person might look at the steps and say ‘That's not for me',” he says.
He also says the design got some criticism from a banker who questioned the shaft of the stairways. It is open all the way to the roof where a skylight provides some light. Maguire says the banker thought the area could have been better used to provide more square-footage.
“But that's the whole idea,” Maguire says. “I'm trying to provide something that is a unique design.”
Maguire says he got the idea for the project after being laid off from a local architecture firm in 2009 when the real estate market went south.
The McKeesport native graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005 and spent two years in California before returning home. After the job layoff, he started looking for some ideas with Segal's developer-architect ideas in mind.
With the designer watching over the developing work, the job gets done better, Segal says. For instance, he says, a contractor putting a job together might use inexpensive doors in a moment of frugality, possibly bringing down the level of work.
“This is a way for the architect to handle things when he gets sick of working for The Man,” he says.
Segal says he has done big seminars on the project in Washington, and Los Angeles, where Maguire encountered him.
Maguire formed Emerge Real Estate as his company. Information on it is available on Facebook or at www.benjaminmaguire.com
Project manager Fusaro compliments Maguire on his handling of the work.
“He controlled most of the working parts,” he says. “He did a little bit of everything.”
Maguire says the whole project was a learning experience, as he learned how to find a builder to work with or arrange for financing. Now that he has been through it once, he is more confident about doing it again.
“It was a wild ride at times, but very satisfying,” he says,
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers not limiting themselves in free agency
- Coyotes’ ability to proliferate despite year-round hunting shows need for culling contests, experts say
- Under Rutherford, it’s been a sizeable shakeup for Penguins
- Burnett’s farewell tour wishlist has just 1 item: Pirates World Series
- Winnik impresses Penguins in first workout
- Kiski Area’s Worthing wins 2nd WPIAL Class AAA wrestling title
- McConnell’s 34 points fuel Chartiers Valley’s come-from-behind victory in Class AAA title game
- Pirates notebook: Infield prospect Hanson used to playing elders
- Big names become available this week via free agency; will Steelers be tempted?
- Against Wake Forest, Pitt looks to reverse fortunes on road
- Blaze rips through Salem house