Quincy Koczka loved to draw growing up and once considered engineering as a career choice. “Instead of paying attention in a high school engineering class, I remember doodling and realized something was wrong,” he recalls. “After that, I explored art as a major then decided on architecture, a balance of two subjects that fulfill me.”
Quincy now holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University at Buffalo. “I studied material culture in graduate school which focuses on objects, properties, what they’re made of and how materials are central to understanding culture,” says Quincy. “This is also the point when I became more attracted to working with my own hands and general craftsmanship.”
As a SACRA instructor he continues to fall more in love with Buffalo. “Teaching provides a hands-on opportunity to appreciate the culture that has produce our environment. This city has an incredible stock of architecture,” he said describing what was one of the most prosperous areas in the world at the turn of the nineteenth century. “It had some major pitfalls, but I see an amazing window to take part in its rebirth training a new generation of builders.”
Quincy learns much from his emerging carpenters who affectionately describe him as ‘energetic’, ‘optimistic’, ‘knowledgeable’, ‘amazing’, ‘open-minded’ and ‘determined,’ when asked to sum him up in a single word. “While I teach, I get to listen to their professional interests,” he said. “I’m also exposed to some of their personal challenges, learning how we can help to support what we’re trying to achieve.”
Quincy enjoys challenging his students to think creatively. “The greatest return is witnessing their growth and new ideas working on very intricate, tedious, small scale models of buildings,” he said. “The detail, what they gravitate to and how far they advance in a short time is amazing. They reveal what they can do when they strive for a little more, it’s inspiring to see that happen.”
Assembly House 150 acknowledges the highly skilled craftspeople from throughout this region who donate the gift of time and talent to the SACRA program. “In partnership, we’ve developed an unconventional curriculum. Most carpentry programs don’t include history or walking architectural tours,” says Quincy. “We go a little bit beyond providing more than just what it takes to get a job. For example, the 3D mural we’re working for the Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project stretches beyond the nuts and bolts of carpentry, that’s what distinguishes this program.”
Long life, loose fit. A motto in architecture which means trying to get as much from a building as possible. “There’s good chance that anything you build might not serve the same purpose 100 years later,” says Quincy anticipating how Assembly House 150 will always transform. “This change is a teaching tool never set in stone. Time will pass, others will come, nothing is ever in stasis here. We celebrate that.”
Anthony is no stranger to construction. He was introduced to the field at age 12 by his much admired Uncle Pat, owner of a home improvement business. “Apprenticing under him, I’ve been doing drywall, electrical, plumbing, heating, floors and doors for nearly 20 years,” said Anthony. “I started working with him as a ground guy, over the years advanced to roofing.” As a teenager, he also worked after hours in the maintainance of 35 West Side properties.
A graduate of Seneca Vocational High School, Anthony was at the top of his class when it came to electrical wiring. He also completed a semester of on framing systems, as well as other construction skills but wanted to learn so much more about the various techniques. Anthony enjoys SACRA and particularly loves working with wood. “SACRA is refining my framing skills,” says Anthony, who pitches in whenever needed to help fellow SACRA classmates. “I’m learning detail and being introduced to new tools, such as joiners and planers.”
Anthony would like to contribute to Buffalo’s revival by building housing on abandoned lots that will give homeless people somewhere to live. He’s very passionate about his work. “Everything I touch, I do to the best of my ability. I work on houses as if I live in them,” he says. “I would not put my family at risk, I feel the same about other families.”
Fast forward: his next project is to build a drag car that accelerates to 200 MPH in less than 10 seconds. When asked if he had the choice to be anyone, he’d still choose himself. Anthony’s favorite word? “Inappropriate.” What cheers him? Being with his three kids. He says the weirdest thing about him is he eats mustard with fries, and that he doesn’t like ketchup. His hero? His Uncle Pat, which is not surprising.
Emoni loves working with her hands. Her time spent at SACRA has shown that despite numerous splinters, nothing beats the motivation of completing a project. Emoni is immensely proud of her sawhorse, her first completed project that she now gets to see in use.
With not much prior construction experience, she is enjoying learning all the basics, and especially about the many different types of woods and their applications. Emoni is amazed by the library that has been constructed in the Assembly House workspace and the ability of an old church to be repurposed in such a meaningful way.
Concurrently, she is going through her own personal reassessment, learning who she is and who she wants to be. Every day is a step towards discovering what drives her. She sees this time as an opportunity to start afresh. “It’s a new me and I‘m learning about her every day.”
While her long-term goal is to be a registered nurse, she is open to possible work in construction. As Emoni continues to explore new horizons, she remains grounded by her family. Her son is her greatest motivation, with her parents provide invaluable lessons as role models from their own personal experiences. “They taught me to never give up,” she said. “Once you do, you're never going to get it back so you just have to keep trying.”
Her optimism shines through when she is with her SACRA classmates. Emoni wants anyone she interacts with to feel comfortable in just being themselves. The company of her classmates and the use of her hands each day is more than enough to get excited about. “I come here, have fun and learn,” she said. “Time goes by quickly when you’re having fun.”
Representatives from the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) and Empire State Development inspect the 40ft x 12ft decorative pattern wall that is under construction by SACRA students. The wall will be installed in the public lobby of the new Northland Workforce Training Center, an industry-driven, public-private partnership between employers, educational institutions, community and faith-based organizations and state and local government focused on closing the skills gap of the local labor pool. The Northland Pattern Wall combines wood components crafted by SACRA students with the original wood pattern molds from the former Niagara Machine and Tool Works, the site of the wall's installation. The project offers a meditation on the past and future of skilled labor in Buffalo, while producing an imaginary map of the city.
With more than $43 billion spent on domestic pets in the US last year, the pet industry offers a potential source of income for Ciara Salter who builds dog houses. As the market for both low- and high-end dog houses continues to increase, Ciara has dedicated the last five years to astutely meeting this niche demand.
Her stylish designs incorporate insulation, carpeting and a detachable roof for easy cleaning. “I also customize color schemes,” she says as well as accomodating other unsual features. Where did she pick up this trade? “My dad, he owned his own construction business, I’ve been at this since age 12.”
The construction industry is rife with potential safety hazards, though many of them can be avoided through proper training. Ciara ranks safety at the top of list of what she has learned at SACRA. “The program has also introduced me to carving using new equipment, such as Japanese saws,” she says, whie praising the instructors for doing a great job and practicing patience.
“The house we’re constructing has been quite an experience, a lot goes into it, I enjoyed building stairs. We’re also exposed to design, creating an abstract mural from repurposed wood,” she says. “So many pieces represent the history of Buffalo, tell a lot of stories, I’m really excited about that.”
Ciara says she a good listener who admires the hip hop icon Jay-Z. “I respect him as an entrepreneur, his work ethic and for getting the job done.”
Shawn never expected to have the ability to build a house with his own hands. In fact, afraid that he might accidentally hammer himself, Shawn avoided learning how to use tools at all. The SACRA program has helped him realize that not only is he capable, but it isn’t as hard as he had once imagined.
Incredibly proud of how much he’s learning daily, Shawn takes a picture of the house the current class is constructing every hour to document just how quickly it undergoes transformation. As one of the few students without any background in construction, everything he learns is new to him. This clean slate makes Shawn unique among his classmates. He typically arrives at Assembly House 150 a few hours before everyone else to gain as much additional instruction as he can.
Shawn enjoys learning about blueprints and wants to use his newfound knowledge to work on a personal project—the building of a “huge man cave” in his own backyard.
While he continues to develop skills as a builder and craftsman, Shawn proclaims his greatest strength is an expansive vocabulary, as well as a knowledge of random facts. Known as “Mr. Google” amongst friends, one of his favorite words is “gregarious,” which he feels aptly describes his personality.
Shawn loves to look out for others, and helping them in a way he would want to be helped. He aspires to continue building on his strong foundation, being a good dad and maintaining a strong, happy relationship.
He dreams of building a youth community center with activities for kids as a positive option to roaming the streets. With the skills learned at Assembly House, who knows? That may one day be possible.
Eva Franch i Gilabert, Director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture in NYC, and Dennis Maher, Executive Director of Assembly House 150, appropriated the Quarter House project as a stage for a public conversation about the emerging roles of cultural institutions as platforms for civic engagement and collective design action. The event was organized as a part of the University at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning lecture series.
During his last lecture entitled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” the late Dr. Randy Pausch advised, “wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you." Interviewing Donna Neiberline embodies the spirit of these words. The surprise that emerges with time? She is a lover of science, particularly of pathology and microbiology. Donna even enjoys conducting her own science experiments at home.
Prior to starting SACRA, the only tool Donna had ever used was a screwdriver. “As a woman, learning this trade was something I never imagined, it was something very different for me,” she said. “At first, I was a little nervous, I can be a bit clumsy, but the instructors have great patience teaching the importance of taking your time to steady your hands for the best results. I was surprised just how comfortable I felt with the tools. Our first project was the first thing I’ve ever built in my life.”
Donna likes her classmates and instructors. “I’m also enjoying building a portion of a house, something I would be interested in doing in the future,” says Donna, who relocated here from San Antonio, TX, in 2016. “Moving to Buffalo was a huge weather change, summers here are ideal compared to the ridiculously hot weather there,” she says.
After hours, Donna loves spending time with her three kids. Her strengths? Being trustworthy, patient, a quick learner and having a sense of humor. She credits her brother, Christopher, with being a loving, tremendous mentor. “I learned a lot from him,” she says.
As a newcomer to this area, she has noticed the scores of vacant, rundown homes in low income areas where people are struggling with poverty, mental health, addiction and homelessness. “I would like to use my skills to help teach them to rehab houses, clean up their communities,” said Donna. “Doing so may help them to help themselves and be prideful about what they’ve done in their own neighborhoods.”
The greatest lesson SACRA has taught Anthony is that he uses his hands each day more than anything else. He’s right. These hard-working extremities allow us to manipulate our world but are all-too-often overlooked. If we followed the view of a wrist-cam, we could bear witness to the endless indispensable tasks that our multi-fingered workhorses perform.
Anthony has been involved with construction for most of his life, including his experience as a roofer. He’s no stranger to hard work and SACRA has provided him with the opportunity to build on all he knows. Through SACRA, Anthony has expanded his talents from the roof to learning how to build a house from the foundation.
“This program is showing me how to start from the bottom and work my way up,” he said. While taking on the building of a whole structure may sound intimidating, Anthony is finding, it’s really not: “I thought it would be stressful, hard work. I didn't think it would be this easy to start.”
Now that Anthony has taken a significant step in his career development, he hopes to continue expanding on this foundation in his personal life, including fulfilling an aspiration to build his own home. While it may take a few years, he’s confident that he will make it happen.
Anthony’s enthusiasm, energy and confidence are a welcome addition to SACRA. He is described as the talkative one who gets along with any and everybody. “I keep everybody smiling,” he said. “If you’re having a stressed-out day I’ll talk with you, keep you happy and take your mind off of it.”
He’s learned from his grandfather, his greatest influence, always to be strong in the face of adversity and to stay positive through it all. If he could be anybody, Anthony would want to be Jesus for a day to help spread this positivity to the rest of the world. “I would save everybody from what they're going through now,” he said. “No wars.”
Although his charisma and charm radiate when he enters a room, Anthony feels his strength is in his humility. A dancer, rapper and musician, Anthony has performed with Run DMC and BeBe and CeCe Winans. These experiences were a major turnaround for the former shy, reserved Anthony. Now that he has emerged from his shell, he continues to be a source of positivity to his family, his community and his SACRA classmates.
Buffalo News reporter Colin Dabkowski has written a comprehensive article on the SACRA program and the collaboration between Assembly House 150 and the Innovation Lab of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Read the article here.
The SACRA program kicks off with a celebratory event for students, instructors, sponsors and leaders in affiliated construction and development industries.
The Society for the Advancement of Construction Related Arts (SACRA) has welcomed its first class of trainees to its headquarters at Assembly House. Participants in the SACRA program will receive hands-on instruction in carpentry/woodworking over the course of 15 weeks through SACRA's unique project-based curriculum.
The SACRA program, a collaboration between Assembly House 150 and the Innovation Lab of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, have been recommended for a grant of $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. SACRA will bring together local tradespeople, developers, craftspeople, artists, and artisans to teach trainees key skills in high demand within the construction market today. The Erie County Department of Social Services (DSS) will play a vital role in this ongoing project as the recruiter for student participants.
A fundraiser at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery brought together developers, architects, contractors and other business owners in order to draw attention to the need for skills training in carpentry and construction.
An article in UBNow Magazine focuses on the SACRA program.