My path to a career in architecture was based less in dream or desire and more based in the rational view of knowing I enjoyed construction, but couldn't imagine a life spent entirely in that world. My interest in drawing, coupled with my interest in construction, seemed to lead in the direction of architecture, although when I made that decision at the age of 17, I had no more idea of what it meant to be an architect than I did an archeologist. At the time, I'm not sure that the admissions folks at Penn State knew the difference either, since they admitted nearly 200 people to a program that expected to graduate less than 50, so the first year professors were all about culling down class size. After surviving that first year, I began to find a place for myself, and by the third year became immersed in a studio organized by European architects who shared a non-traditional view of the roles architects can and should play in society, and whose perspective on the development of social housing was very different from the trend prevalent in the US at the time. The only American professor in the studio was Michael Pyatok, who shared and expanded these values, and who himself has established a very highly regarded west coast practice that focuses almost exclusively on affordable housing.
The other turning point in my education, and which definitively cemented my interest in architecture, was my foreign study experience at the University of Fine Arts in Florence. It was at this time, exposed at every juncture to the impact of history on the environment and the counterpoint of the modern design movement there, that I began to formulate a belief in the social purpose an architect could serve, and a different view of the role an architect could play in our society.
Gradually, these forces of education, life in a foreign culture, and long-held values of human rights and social justice, I began to develop my philosophy of architecture and its place in culture. For me, architecture is as much about place and as it is about space, where the importance of scale and context are paramount. Design is about problem solving - meeting and balancing dreams, needs and budget. Successful design creates architecture that adds to a sense of place, respects its context, and reflects its own time. Successful architecture promotes the greater good through pride of place, response to local climate, community building, stronger social networks and lively community.
I believe good design is as integral to improving our communities as good medical care is to improving our health, and that our services should not be limited only to those with the personal means to pay. It is because of these shared beliefs that so much of our practice has been devoted to the design and development of multi-family housing in the non-profit sector.
I had the good fortune of financing most of my college education by working in construction during the summers, learning the craft of bricklaying from my father and other extraordinary craftsmen. Of course, that experience also gave me opportunities to observe other trades, understand sequencing of construction, and become familiar with how things work in the construction process. Those experiences have informed my work as an architect, and have much to do with why builders know that their work is respected and understood as we develop our drawings.
I have made my life here in Burlington since graduation from Penn State in 1974, and have been married to Jean Markey-Duncan since 1978. We have two children who are making their own ways in the world through their work in theater and the non-profit world. Michael and I formed Duncan Wisniewski Architecture in 1985, and have successfully completed hundreds of projects in the intervening years, including over 500 units of affordable housing through our work with various non-profit housing developers in Vermont.