Sandy Dardanelli expects to have a long career in architecture. She loves her job, she’s healthy, and if her family history is any indication, she’s got at least another half-century ahead of her.
“I have two 98-year-old grandmothers who still live at home and are still doing very well,” said Dardanelli, who was recently named president of Griffith Dardanelli Architects, PC, in downtown Schenectady. “I’m going to live a long time. I come from good Polish stock.”
Designing buildings and the surrounding landscape has been Dardanelli’s trade for more than 20 years, and of late, that work has included an architectural philosophy referred to as sustainable design.
“There are short-term and long-term goals, and you want to make sure that the building has a positive impact on the people that work in it, as well as the natural resources around it,” she said. “You have to be conscious of the environment you’re building in, and you want to do everything you can, especially in these days of tight budgets, to make the best use of your materials and make sure the owner gets a good return on his investment.”
Her firm gets much of its business from schools, and among its work recently has been renovations and additions at area high schools, such as Stillwater and Berne-Knox-Westerlo, and colleges, including Schenectady County Community College.
“About 90 percent of our work relates to schools, and we also do some work for nonprofits,” said Dardanelli. “We’re not the biggest firm around, but we have a very good reputation and we have customers who keep coming back to us.”
Dardanelli’s outlook toward a new project is always geared to what the client wants.
“I usually keep within the context and try to remember that I’m not doing the building for me,” she said. “I’m hired by the owner, and it’s their goals that I’m concerned about. You’re part of a team with the owner, the engineer and the contractor, and your goal is to achieve the owner’s goal.”
Born in Rotterdam, Dardanelli, then Sandy Zalucki, graduated from Mohonasen High School in 1982. The youngest of four siblings — she has three older brothers — Dardanelli grew up a tomboy.
“I had dolls, too, but I had three older brothers, and most of the neighborhood was made up of boys,” said Dardanelli. “I was always running around with my older brothers, and in the open field behind our house, they were building new houses. I used to love just wandering through them and looking at them. That got me interested in architecture.”
She was also interested in child psychology, and when she left Mohonasen and began taking classes at SUNY Buffalo, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life.
“My father thought that maybe I should do architecture, and I guess he thought it was a better economic field to be in, rather than child psychology,” remembered Dardanelli. “But I ended up having a dual major, and it took me five years to finish because of all the requirements.”
After college, she quickly toured Europe and then headed back to Schenectady and worked for Stracher Roth Gilmore, Architects. Marriage took her to Norfolk, Va., where she continued working in the architectural field and also started raising a family.
“I was working in Virginia, but I got licensed in New York because that’s where our families were and we knew we wanted to go back and have our kids get to know their grandparents,” said Dardanelli. “Family is very important to us.”
Karl Griffith, who had joined Cataldo, Waters and Griffith Architects in 1987, was happy to have Dardanelli on board and in 2003 invited her to become a partner in the firm, which had been created back in 1953.
“We were advertising for help, and I actually knew her father from the Schenectady Rotary Club,” remembered Griffith. “I remember Sandy was still in Virginia, but her father brought in her resume to our office. She had some good experience, and she had worked with a few firms on big projects, not just small stuff. Professionally, she’s very confident. Even though she’s a small woman, she’s a very strong force, and on a personal level, she’s very friendly. I think everyone who has worked with Sandy likes her and respects her.”
Griffith, who graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1984, says that while the architectural field has always been open to women, their numbers were low until recently.
“It certainly wasn’t closed to women, not by definition, but I remember in my class, there were probably only two or three women in a class of 40 to 50 people,” he said. “It seems lately, though, that whenever we advertise for help, it’s about a 50-50 response. There are more women in the field.”
The numbers were also a little low a few years later, in 1987, when Dardanelli graduated from SUNY Buffalo.
“There were only four women in my class of about 50 guys, but growing up with three brothers, that was kind of normal for me,” said Dardanelli. “I never really perceived that there was a problem, but when I was in Virginia, my employer actually asked the owner if he had any problem with a women doing the work on his project. He said, ‘No,’ so everything was fine.
“That’s the only time I noticed there might be an issue, but the sex of the architect shouldn’t matter, and I don’t think it does. I’ve never been intimidated by anybody, and usually, if you show people respect, they show it back to you.”
In 2003, after Charles Cataldo retired, Griffith thought enough of Dardanelli to give her the opportunity to become his sole partner.
“I didn’t want to be the sole principal, and while I thought briefly about a merger with some other firm, I had been getting to know Sandy and her abilities for a while,” said Griffith. “When I started thinking through my options, I felt that she was the best one, so I offered her the chance to start buying into the firm. She knows what’s required on a project, and she uses a firm but fair approach.”
This latest move, announced by the firm’s board of directors in December, puts Dardanelli in control of the company, while Griffith remains as vice president and treasurer.
“It is an exciting opportunity to step into the position of president at Griffith Dardanelli,” she said. “I look forward to continuing the great relationship we have with all of our clients and broadening the range of services that we provide.”
To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.