Nina Galleta, AR’78
Note: This Alumni Profile was originally published in the October 2012 issue of the CUAA newsletter
She is a Registered Architect and one of the three partners that make up G.V.Z. Architects in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to the formation of G.V.Z., Nina was Project Architect for JCS Design Associates, a New York-based interior design firm where she directed renovation and planning projects for corporate offices, public spaces and hospitals. She has considerable design experience and extensive knowledge of interior finishes and furnishings as well as expertise in kitchen and bath design. Mary Lynch, ChE ’82 spoke with her about her achievements and strong connection to Cooper.
When did you know that you would like to be an Architect?
I decided that I wanted to study architecture while I was attending Barnard College. I got an Art History degree at Barnard before coming to Cooper Union as a transfer student. Barnard was a Women’s College then. Columbia University did not yet admit women, but I was able to take architecture courses at Columbia University because those courses were not offered at Barnard. It was while taking those courses that I decided I wanted to be an architect. I looked at graduate programs in architecture as well as The Cooper Union.
Was the Architecture program a 5 year program then and how many years were you there?
Yes, the program was 5 years. Even though I had a BA degree and some architecture and humanities credits, at Cooper I was considered a transfer student and it still took 4 years to complete the program. The architecture curriculum included the design sequence and required structures and technology courses as well as humanities courses. The only concession made to transfers was that the third and fourth year design courses were combined into one year – hence the four year time-frame.
What did you enjoy most about your time at The Cooper Union?
I enjoyed building the models and I enjoyed working in the shop. The shop assistants, Nicky and Max were great and worked hard to help us build what we had in mind. I liked the intimate feel of the school. We had small classes and we worked together in the Foundation Building late at night. We made good friendships and it was such a nice experience. We went on really good trips. Roger Cannon was a professor who took us to the Knoll factory in Pennsylvania where we saw how classic mid-century furniture was made. He also took us to the Falling Water house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in western Pennsylvania. This was long before the house was renovated and we got to see how it had deteriorated due to lack of care. I was back there last year and it certainly looks a lot better.
Do you keep in touch with any of your classmates or other alumni?
Of course, I keep in touch with my former roommate, Alta. Alta Indelman, AR ’79 is an architect with a practice on Broome Street. My business partner, Peter Valentini, AR’73 is someone I work with every day and we’ve worked with one of his classmates, Gary Woodard, AR ’73. We’ve also done projects with David Diamond, AR ’77 who is a professor in the Department of Architecture at the Manhattan campus of NYIT and he remains a close friend. I also keep in touch with Richard Dean, AR ’78 who is an architect and works for NYC Transit.
How do you stay connected to The Cooper Union?
Every year, my whole family goes to see the End of Year Show. We all enjoy it. My older son took part in the Saturday Program while he was in high school. My younger son participated in the Engineering Summer program. We all feel a connection to Cooper. I save every postcard the Cooper Union sends us and donate regularly. I have an enduring affection for the school and will always be grateful for my education there.
After Graduating from The Cooper Union, what came next?
I began working at Jack Gordon Architects during May of my junior year and continued through my senior year. I stayed at that firm after graduation. Then in 1986, my husband Michael Zuckerman, Peter Valentini, AR ’73 and I formed our own company, GVZ Architects. For a while we worked out of my apartment on East 11th Street in Manhattan. When my second son was born in 1987, the office and my family no longer fit in the apartment and we moved to a townhouse in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn where we now have our office on the ground floor.
Does your firm specialize in a particular type of architecture?
We have experience in all types of architecture – interior and exterior, including residential, commercial and institutional. Right now, we are doing a new building for a non-profit in Harlem. We recently did a project for Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights. This project was a total gut renovation and expansion of an existing six-story office building to house their Lower School (1st – 3rd grades). The program called for a complete, independent facility, including cafeteria, library, gym, music and art studios and performance spaces. The project presented many challenges, both structurally and in design. The existing building configuration required a creative and unique planning solution. The resulting design utilized all building spaces, including corridors, as part of the learning environment. If you want to see more, see our website: Saint Ann’s School.
What changes in the field of architecture have you been a witness to?
The use of computers, particularly Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs for drafting has changed the way that buildings are drawn and built and made it possible to design more imaginative works. I don’t believe works like those of Frank Gehry would have been possible before there were CAD programs. Auto-CAD has changed the way that I work. I was resistant tolearning a new way of drawing, which was actually, to me, as difficult as learning a new language, but realized that I really had no choice if I wanted to stay current in the field. As a result, I am now able to draw on auto-CAD as if the computer is an extension of my hand. In addition, such other programs as Photoshop and SketchUp have been tremendous tools to help us visualize and present projects and ideas in ways unimaginable a generation ago. Now that 3D printers are becoming more affordable we can expect another leap in how we conceive, design and construct objects, buildings and spaces.
Would you recommend the architecture field to young people?
Yes, if they have patience and the mindset to thrive as an architect. Any young person with the aptitude and drive should pursue architecture because it really is an enjoyable field. One gets to take what exists only in their mind and make it solid. One needs to realize that the architectural creation process takes time and has many technical aspects. It is an occupation that requires creativity, patience and diligence.
What are the ways that Boerum Hill and Brooklyn have changed since you moved here?
When we moved here in 1987 this neighborhood seemed to us like a smaller-scale version of the East Village. The streets were uncrowded and you could see the sky in every direction. However, we were only three subway stops away from Manhattan and so did not feel isolated from the City. There were few children when we moved here and many more older people. In the last two decades many of the older people have sold their homes (now worth quite a bit more than when they’d bought them) and moved away. These homes have been purchased by a younger, much wealthier group of people looking for a neighborhood where they could make a home for their families. Now it seems that that there are children in every building. The streets are now crowded with young families with strollers and dogs. It has become a very family friendly neighborhood – almost like a suburb but definitely with a city vibe.