Featured Student / Alumni

Brian BucknerBrian Buckner

Alumnus uses architecture to craft unique concert experiences

Brian Buckner knew from an early age he wanted to become an architect. What he didn’t anticipate was that he would be using the skills he learned in school to design concert experiences on some of the world’s biggest stages.

In April 2017, Buckner and his colleagues were tapped to develop an immersive concert experience for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods Tour. Fireplay, the architectural and production design studio Buckner cofounded with six others, joined Timberlake’s creative production team and was tasked with building the tour’s scenic design, lighting and special effects. Having studied architecture at Southern Polytechnic State University, Buckner was responsible for design of the stage and props appearing throughout the concert. The goal was to craft a show that left concertgoers speechless regardless of their seats.

The stakes were raised just a few months into developing the tour when Buckner learned that Timberlake was asked to perform at halftime of Super Bowl LII. Though the NFL has its own team dedicated to the technical aspects of the halftime show, Fireplay remained creative producers for Timberlake. The team focused on crafting moments for the show that not only captivated those in the stands, but also the estimated 103.4 million people who were watching the show from home.

Long before he left his fingerprints on one of the largest spectacles in professional sports, Buckner was a high school senior making a tough decision as to where he would continue his academic career. Buckner, whose father was a graduate of SPSU, said he was immediately drawn to its burgeoning architecture program and its unique method of teaching architectural design.

“Everyone I knew was very complimentary of the University’s architectural program and its approach as a very hands-on, practical school,” said Buckner, who graduated in 2007. “It was the overall approach of the school that sticks with me today. The architecture department was very rigorous and engaging. It caused me to think critically and apply logic and rationale behind every design decision.”

Kennesaw State’s program combines architectural theory with technical skills, which Buckner said allowed him to not only conceptualize ideas but land at a practical solution. His undergraduate thesis involved designing experiences using an architectural approach, a practice he continues as one of the co-founders of Fireplay.

“When you say ‘architecture,’ it’s not just about designing buildings,” Buckner said. “What architecture programs can teach you is design. At SPSU, we learned design, but we practiced architecture.”

Brian Buckner

Brian Buckner and Fireplay, an architectural and production design studio he cofounded with six others, are tasked with building scenic design, lighting and special effects for concerts and special events.

Fireplay takes a similar approach to architecture, he said. The design studio was formally created in January 2017 and focuses on integrating architectural strategy and technology into memorable experiences for concerts and events, among other things. Buckner, who has previous experience working for architectural firms, has taken on projects spanning several industries including retail, hospitality and live entertainment. Ventures have ranged from designing custom furniture for hospitality venues to conceptualizing an entire 40,000-square-foot retail building.

Though the studio had plenty of experience handling other live events, the Super Bowl halftime show presented a different kind of challenge. Buckner said the focus was on creating jaw-dropping visuals and breaking barriers of previous halftime performances.

“We started by creating these moments that we thought would make for exciting visuals for the people at home while leaving a bit of mystery for those in the stands,” he said.

The halftime show started in the Delta Lounge inside Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium before moving Timberlake through the fans seated in the stadium’s lower level. The musician then made his way onto the field to perform on custom-built stages, each made to create awe-inspiring moments reflective of the song being performed. It culminated with a piano tribute to late musical legend Prince, whose image was projected on a large sheet hung in the center of the field as Timberlake performed down below, an homage to Prince’s Super Bowl KLI performance.

On the sideline, Buckner himself was awestruck by what he was witnessing.

“I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is ridiculous,’” he recalled. “My colleagues and I all came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t have been there if we weren’t at the right place at the right time, but I think it truly did start at Southern Polytechnic and the decisions I made while in Marietta. I can trace all of my steps from the education and experience I had there to my everyday job.”

Tony Rizzuto, chair of Kennesaw State’s Department of Architecture, said timing had little to do with Buckner’s success. While studying on the Marietta Campus, Buckner quickly established himself as a capable design influencer.

“He is living proof of the power of an architectural education and how it positions professionals to be able to lead in all kinds of projects,” Rizzuto said. “Architecture is really about problem-solving and collaboration, and the degree really prepares students to be leaders in practice. Brian has maximized these skills.”

Original story | Written by Travis Highfield, Photos by Fireplay; and Andy Lee




  • Sandra IskanderSandra Iskander

    As a child, Egyptian-born Sandra Iskander always loved creating things from scratch. She knew that she wanted to have an impact on people’s daily lives and how they feel, and decided to begin studying architecture.

    Iskander began her studies at the German University in Cairo (GUC) in 2010, where she was among the first ever class to major in Architectural Engineering, taught by German and Austrian professors. In 2012, Iskander moved to the U.S. and transferred into the third year architecture program at Kennesaw State University in 2013.

    When asked about her experience as a student in KSU's architecture program, Iskander replied, "KSU combines the research aspect and the hands-on technical side of architecture and teaches the students not only how to be creative, but also how to actually put up a building together, which was a critical subject when it comes to building a career."

    For her fifth year Thesis project, Iskander designed a school in Cairo to serve as a public community device, enhancing the creativity of kids by creating the best learning environment. Her Thesis, entitled "The Egyptian Learning Experience", was selected for the Department of Architecture's annual Thesis Competition in 2016. Iskander made the Dean's List and graduated from KSU's five-year Bachelor of Architecture program in Fall 2016.

    Iskander now works as a Project Coordinator for the Justice Studio at Wakefield Beasley & Associates in Atlanta, which specializes in designing prisons, detention facilities, municipal projects, courthouses, high secure spaces, and other public/community spaces like senior centers.

    "Growing up in Egypt, I was fortunate enough to go to private and international schools, but I’ve always witnessed the dramatic difference between such schools and the public schools where the majority of kids suffer every day. This sparked in me the passion to pay back to my community, trying to make it a better place for everyone, especially young kids. It just feels so good to be able to give back to the community and help make people’s life better. Starting with my Thesis project at KSU, I chose to design a public school in my home town, Cairo, that would serve as a community device engaging the people and providing the optimum learning environment for kids to enhance their creativity."

    Iskander's team at Wakefield Beasley & Associates recently finished the Metro State Prison project, which is a new transition detention facility in Atlanta projected to begin operating in April 2018. "This project was very unique for the fact that it will be a transition detention facility, dealing with so many different security levels," Iskander stated.

    Having established a solid ground for herself and having built such a diverse portfolio, Iskander plans to soon obtain her architecture licensure, which will open up even more opportunities for her continuing career in architecture. Enrolling in a graduate program also remains on her radar.

    Iskander's advice for current students in KSU's architecture program is this: "I would advise each and every student in the KSU Architecture program to take it so seriously. I know it can be tough sometimes with all the sleepless nights and stress before deadlines, but that’s what  helps us to become successful architects who can deal with the real work-life stresses, and it all pays off at the end."


    Darral Tate

    Darral Tate

    Darral Tate is Fourth Year Architecture student at Kennesaw State University who was recently selected to intern with the Atlanta Regional Commission's Sustainability Committee for the 2017-2018 academic year. Tate is the first KSU student selected for this internship and and also the first architecture student.

    Tate discovered the internship with the Atlanta Regional Commission through Kennesaw State's Handshake website. Apart from applying, he also submitted a letter of recommendation from Department of Architecture Professor Kathryn Bedette.

    The main goal of Tate's internship is to assist the Sustainability Committee in obtaining "Platinum" status for the Gwinnett County government through the Green Communities program. This requires him to to meet with government officials and county department leaders to brainstorm strategies to help attain this goal.

    Green Communities is a program that assists local governments in implementing measures to help reduce their impact on the environment. The program currently offers four certifications: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The difference between each certification is the amount of sustainable policies and practices implemented. Gwinnett County was the first county to ever receive "Gold" certification and they hope to soon become the first county to achieve "Platinum" certification as well.

    When asked about how his education in the KSU Architecture program has helped prepare him for this experience, he replied, "In my education so far I have learned that architecture is not just about designing buildings. I have learned now that architects must be aware of the environment around them. There is a course sequence we must take in the program, "Environmental Technologies", where we learn about sustainable practices and how the environment can inform design. In our studio classes we then get the opportunity to experiment and apply this knowledge into our own designs."

    Tate's internship with the Atlanta Regional Commission's Sustainability Committee will enable him to apply what he's leaned to his studies, with combined gained knowledge from professionals, mentors, and other interns he has been introduced to through the program.

    "The Green Communities program covers a wide range of elements that all effect the way we live our day to day lives," says Tate. "In working with Gwinnett County I hope to get a better understanding of the built environment and what type of impact it has on the surrounding communities."

    After graduation, Tate hopes to continue exploring sustainability practices in hopes of creating architecture that makes a positive impact on the community, while giving back to the environment.

    Photo by KSU student Noah Bieber 

    William Lentjes

    William L

    Kennesaw State University alumnus William Lentjes has been named a Portz Scholar, an accolade the National Collegiate Honors Council awards to only four people in the U.S. each year.

    Lentjes graduated from Kennesaw State in May with a degree in architecture and as an Honors Scholar, the University’s highest academic honor. The NCHC chose Lentjes as a Portz Scholar based on his senior capstone project titled “On Craft,” which re-examines the instructional methods utilized in architectural education.

    “Being acknowledged in this way is an honor,” Lentjes said. “It brings up reflection on the friends, family, mentors and advisors who have made something like this possible. A special thanks goes to my honors thesis advisors, Dr. Kami Anderson, Professor Kathryn Bedette and Dr. Mine Hashas-Degertekin, for their help.”

    Lentjes will present his project at the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Atlanta in November. NCHC member institutions can nominate one paper written by an undergraduate honors student for the Portz Scholars competition, and Kennesaw State’s Honors Collegeselected Lentjes’ thesis – which also was awarded the 2017 KSU Outstanding Senior Capstone Award for the Marietta Campus.

    In “On Craft,” Lentjes promotes looking beyond “endless mechanized production and spiritless materialism” and viewing architecture “through the consciousness, awareness and perception of a subject.” He describes “craft” as a relationship between craftsman, tool and material.

    Anderson said she was most impressed by the level of detail Lentjes put into the project. He made his own paper on which to write the thesis, used woodworking and burnishing skills to make the cover for the project, and transposed his computational drafts and graphic designs to the handmade book. Lentjes showed “thoughtful attention to how his work on that capstone could be a benefit to the learning process for other architects,” Anderson said.

    “All of these things embody each and every one of the Honors foundations: critical thinking, creation and innovation, interdisciplinary learning, information fluency, professionalism, appreciation of diverse viewpoints, effective communication and leadership,” said Anderson, the director of the Undergraduate Honors Program for the Marietta Campus. “William’s capstone was exemplary in so many ways and was the best representation of what we stand for in Honors.”

    Lentjes impressed potential employers as well, as he was hired upon his graduation as a designer for Office of Design, an architecture firm in Decatur. Lentjes said he is “excited to learn more each day” and plans to become a licensed architect soon.

    “Long term, I aspire to use architecture as a means of helping others,” Lentjes said. “Space designed with care and intentional sincerity can bring healing – or even just a little appreciation for life.”

    Original story | Story written by Paul Floeckher

    John Valentine

    John Valentine

    John began his career in Architecture by attending the Southern Polytechnic School of Architecture. There he learned skills and met people who would shape the trajectory of his career here and abroad. John has been fortunate early in his career to have the support of mentors and family. He knows without that support he would not be on the path he is today.

    After 3 years of Architecture college, still searching for a path, he joined a study abroad program hosted in Dessau, Germany. In Germany, he studied at the Bauhaus, travelled frequently to Berlin and to important architectural landmarks. Libeskind’s Jewish Museum and Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial transformed John’s understanding of architecture.

    Influenced by his experiences in Germany and his study of Corbusier, Ando and Zumthor, his thesis is a study of atmosphere and architecture’s power. "Situation 6: A Recipe for Atmosphere", explores the relationship between architect and inhabitant. John analyzed modes of design communication and created a framework to develop atmospheric space, which communicates with its inhabitants. Using the criteria he developed, he created a mode of design development that focuses on experience.

    Comcast OfficeJohn’s thesis project was awarded the Faculty’s Choice Award in 2013, the follow-up biennial award in 2014 and as a result John was invited to participate in the Archiprix international workshop in Spain. While in Barcelona his architectural horizon further expanded by visiting the Sagrada Familia. Already a year into his professional career, this trip developed his understanding of the importance of evocative and sublime spaces.

    After graduation, John started his career with Wakefield Beasley in the corporate office studio. He quickly gained respect and recognition for hard work, attention to detail and design sense. He was rewarded with the opportunity to work with the team for the Comcast Headquarters at Suntrust Park. John worked on production drawings and details under supervision. Working at Wakefield Beasley, John worked other offices and was integral to their production and design.

    1105 West PeachtreeJohn’s career next led him to Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio. He is currently designing and developing 1105 West Peachtree. The project is comprised of a 30 story office tower, a boutique hotel, a high end condominium building, a 1 acre roof terrace and 8 levels of parking. The project occupies a key location in Midtown and has many challenges, including a Marta line running underneath. During his work on 1105 West Peachtree he has had the opportunity to integrate his thesis research and personal interests into the design. Additionally, he has had the opportunity to present those designs to RJT+R, the development team, and now the public through the YAF at the Spotlight on Atlanta, Vol. 2 event.

    Driven by the belief that architecture can and should be more than a building, John’s personal and professional work continue to focus on process driven modes of design and design communication in relationship to human experience.


    Whitney AshleyWhitney Ashley

    Having a resume that stretches locally and internationally, SPSU Architect alumni Whitney Ashley has proven to not only her employers but the current students of KSU that you can fulfill all of your aspirations and then some.

    Graduating in 2012, Whitney developed her interest in Digital Design and Fabrication while working on her undergrad thesis project which actually won two awards (Faculty Choice Award and Elected Nominee for the Arch Prix Competition). After graduating, she collaborated with a fellow student and entered into the Art on the Beltline competition. They were selected to design and build two different installations that were entitled “Woodie” and “Wormhole” which you can actually see on the competition’s website.

    In 2015, Whitney was accepted into Georgia Tech and pursued a Masters of Architecture Degree with a concentration in Digital Design and Fabrication. While working on her degree, Whitney had the opportunity to study abroad in Germany and South Africa. Along with a team, she helped build a theater in the Township of Langa in Capetown, South Africa.

    Origami TessellationShortly after graduation, Whitney and a few Georgia Tech classmates were granted to exhibit an installation that they designed and built in one of their classes. The project is entitled “Origami Tessellation” and was presented on the Beltline in 2015 for 5 months. Following the exhibition, Georgia Tech granted that the installation could be re-installed in front of the Architecture Building which will be exhibited until 2018.

    Kennesaw State University’s Department of Architecture is immensely proud of Whitney for all of her achievements and we are excited to see what her future holds! If you’d like to see Whitney’s current and past projects, please click here to visit her website.


    Mandy Palasik and Nghi DuongLiving Synergies

    KSU Department of Architecture alumni, Mandy Palasik and Nghi Duong, have designed a glow in the dark installation in dedication to the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade, taking place on September 10, 2016.

    From early September through mid-November, the two alumni of KSU will have their work “Living Synergies” featured in the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade that will set a high bar for  future artists in the largest temporary art exhibition in the south.

    The project has an Instagram page including a hashtag for the parade (#livingsynergies), which shows the process that Mindy, Nghi, and their team did to make this project come to life.

    If you’d like to see more work, follow Living Synergies Instagram @livingsynergies and check out the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade’s website for more information.

     Chris Stailey and Jacob Mashburn
    Chris Stailey and Jacob Mashburn

    KSU Architecture alumni Chris Stailey and Jacob Mashburn (KSU B.ARCH, 2010) founded Agon Coordination, along with Micah Childs, in May 2013 in response to the growing need for BIM coordination services throughout the New York City area.

    While collaborating together on the Madison Square Garden and rebuilding of the World Trade Center projects, these three came to realize that with Micah’s extensive experience in the MEP fields, Chris’s vision of approaching issues of architectural design with a macro to micro approach and Jacob’s ability to collaborate well across multiple facets of the construction process, their skills could be best utilized together, and thus Agon Coordination was born.

    Since its inception, Agon has tackled many highly impressive projects, including providing BIM coordination services for the World Trade Center reconstruction, the Columbia University expansion with the Medical and Graduate Education buildings, the entire Hudson Yards development, Pier 17 and the Manhattan West development to name a few. Chris and Jacob credit their tenure at the Department of Architecture at Kennesaw State University as an integral part of providing the knowledge and resiliency it takes to handle some of New York’s highest profile projects.

    The Kennesaw State Department of Architecture is extremely proud to call Chris and Jacob alumni of our program, and anticipate their many additional exciting projects and creative endeavors in the impending future. 

    Agon Coordination is currently expanding their services to the Philadelphia, San Diego and Atlanta areas. Services include pre-coordination models, coordination, as-builts, construction phase scheduling and supply estimation. For additional information, please visit www.agoncoordination.com.

     Patrick ChopsonPatrick Chopson

    Patrick Chopson has gone on to do amazing things since earning his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Kennesaw State University in 2013. After receiving his Master’s in High Performance Buildings (Georgia Tech, 2014), Patrick co-founded the Energy Lab at research-based architecture and design firm Perkins + Will and returned to KSU as a part-time instructor, teaching a Focus Studio and Decom in 2015.

    In June 2015, Patrick started an Atlanta-based building analytics consulting firm, Pattern r+d, as Chief Operating Officer. Patrick brings his expertise in process integration and computational design to Pattern’s team, which also includes Kennesaw State graduates Julian Quinn, Principal (B.ARCH 2013) and Ken Chin, Design Intern (B.ARCH 2015).

    Pattern r+d utilizes analysis tools and methods to design for building energy, daylighting, and thermal comfort performance. These findings provide clients (architects, engineers, and contractors) with the lowest life cycle cost combinations of materials and technology parameters that meet or exceed operational energy efficiency targets.

    Not only is Pattern r+d making an exciting industry impact, but they are also actively involved in the community, including participating in the Living Building Challenge, hosting workshops and engaging in a variety of public awareness opportunities.

    For more information on Pattern r+d, please visit www.patternarch.com.


    Demetrius Rease

    Demetrius Rease

    Demetrius Rease is an upcoming fourth year Architecture major at Kennesaw State University. The youngest of three children, Demetrius was raised in Marietta, GA. Upon graduating from Sprayberry High School in 2011, Demetrius began his college studies at Georgia Highlands College.

    The following year, Demetrius was accepted into Kennesaw State University’s Architecture Program (formerly Southern Polytechnic State University), where he began to dive into his true academic passion. Wasting no time, Demetrius landed his first real-world experience as an Exhibition Design Intern, under Jim Waters and Edward Leftwich, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. This


    opportunity allowed Demetrius to gain valuable experience in the area of professional architectural model making. Most recently, Demetrius worked in the KSU Architecture Wood Shop as a student assistant to Dave Peeples, Manager of Building Operations.

    “My most influential professors throughout my architecture education happen to be my first year architecture professors. Both Professor Marietta Monaghan and Professor Bronne Dytoc have expressed to me the high importance of craft, quality and experience,” said Reese.

    Demetrius constructed his model of the Design II Building for Professor Dytoc’s Environmental III class. In this assignment, the professor allowed the students to design and apply solar/shade solutions to DII’s west facade and clerestory windows. It is an architectural environment with solar conditions in which students are familiar with working. The model can be secured to a turntable, allowing for students to mimic any solar condition on earth from summer to winter, sunrise to sunset, with the slightest tilt or rotation. The time of year and day on the surface of the turntable can be determined by a horizontal sun path diagram, which sits on the roof of the Design II Building.

    “This isn't the first, nor will it probably be the last model that I will do for Professor Dytoc. Every time he assigns me a model to construct, we both benefit from it,” said Rease. “He receives a scaled and accurate mock-up model for his students to apply their design solutions, and I receive the experience and substance needed to build an impressive portfolio.”