By Becca Taurisano
Greg A. Chianis and Todd J. Anderson founded the Binghamton-based architectural firm of Chianis + Anderson, on a simple premise: do what you say you will do. The two colleagues had worked together previously and after a brief hiatus, they reconnected at a local fundraising event. In 2001, they opened Chianis + Anderson Architects and in 2006, Jeffery T. Smith became their partner. Now twenty years later, the firm has 19 employees and is housed in the historic Davidge Mansion located at 31 Front Street on Binghamton’s West Side.
A HANDS-ON APPROACH
Chianis, Anderson, and Smith are actively involved in every project the firm takes on, giving clients confidence that there is continuity in direction from the top down. That hands-on model was important to the partners in determining what the firm culture should look like, as well as wanting to maintain a good reputation with both clients and contractors alike. “It’s important to have a partner involved in every project so the client sees that the project means something to us and it’s being looked after by a comprehensive team,” says Smith.
Having an implicit understanding of construction is important to the partners as well. “You don’t really know how to design something unless you first know how to build it. We are very practical with what and how we design. This has gotten us a long way in our relationships with contractors. Each project should be practically designed and then constructed,” says Chianis.
“Our team understands construction,” says Anderson. “It is always a challenge to communicate from a desk to the guy on site standing knee-deep in mud, but our people are very good at that. If there are questions from the contractors, we are very responsive. We will go onsite and stand in the mud with them. Not every firm subscribes to that idea.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Chianis + Anderson has an assortment of residential, hospitality, commercial, and senior housing/nursing home clients, but about 80% of their projects are in the healthcare industry. “It means a lot to design a healthcare space that is welcoming and healing, that makes people less afraid and more comfortable. Any time we work on a healthcare facility, we try to make a difference in someone’s experience,” says Chianis.
In 2007, Chianis was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and at the same time was finishing the expansion of the cancer care center for United Health Services in Johnson City. “One day I was the project architect in charge of this renovation and expansion, and the next day I’m sitting in a treatment chair getting chemo in a space that I designed. I saw things from a very different point of view, as a patient. That experience has made me into a stronger person and a better designer,” he says.
From considering how a patient would feel walking in to get a mammogram for the first time, to what sort of items are stored in the cabinets of the nurses’ station, the team at Chianis + Anderson strives to consider every aspect of the experience, down to the artwork on the walls. “Artwork is known to be a healing element in a healthcare setting,” says Chianis. He worked with local artists to commission works for the United Health Services Vestal Primary Care project and even has a few of his own photographs on the walls.
Regardless of if it is a multi-million dollar project or a $200,000 addition on a private residence, delivering quality and providing excellent customer service is the goal. Many of the firm’s clients have been with them since the beginning. “We try to provide the best service possible to every customer no matter the size or scope of the project. Everybody deserves our best,” says Chianis.
Anderson likes to work on the more challenging projects and is well-versed in building codes. “Many of our clients are very code and regulation driven. I can provide better service to them if I am the person they call with a regulatory question or problem. It is not about billing every hour, it’s about building that relationship,” he says.
Balancing the client’s needs and the contractor’s needs is key. “Everyone these days is tight on budget and tight on schedule. We need to be able to respond quickly so we can keep the project moving. The contractors appreciate our responsiveness. We find the solution that will work for everyone,” says Anderson.
Chianis + Anderson is locally owned and locally operated. As a mid-size architectural and interior design firm, they take on projects of all sizes within a three-hour radius, as far away as Philadelphia. With an average of 120 projects per year over the last 20 years, Chianis + Anderson has left its mark on the skyline of Binghamton and surrounding areas. “The impact we’ve left in our immediate community with the number of buildings we’ve designed – healthcare, residential, businesses, restaurants – it’s pretty vast,” says Chianis.
Smith’s passion is historical preservation, and he is currently working with Temple Concord on the Kilmer Mansion including re-building three stone chimneys, four stories in the air. Smith says he enjoys being able to walk to the project site, climb up the scaffolding, meet with the masons, and take pictures of the project. “The local projects are fun. It’s our backyard and we need to take care of our own area,” says Smith.
Chianis + Anderson also gives back to the community through helping non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, whom they have worked with at no cost for over a decade. “For us,” says Smith, “it’s not just the work you do in the office, it’s how you conduct yourself in the community. We work with local non-profit organizations, and sit on a number of local boards, commissions, and steering committees. You want to put your absolute best foot forward where you live.”
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Not every project is a piece of cake, but the firm prides itself on solving their clients’ problems. Anderson says the most challenging projects are some of their rural healthcare clients, because of their budget limitations. “It is a challenge to meet the needs of the community and the regulatory requirements, all while staying within budget.”
Every person at the firm is expected to do what it takes to get the project completed, including the partners themselves. “One of the things we do as partners, is we step up and do what we have to do. We are all in it together and we have to deliver for the client. That’s key to any successful firm,” says Smith.
For Smith, he says it can be uncomfortable talking to clients about issues with a project, but that honesty is essential. “They might not like to hear our advice, but that’s what we are hired for. There can be some bumps along the way and it’s our job to communicate that.”
In the Northeast, architects face challenges with the age of the buildings, environmental issues such as asbestos, and buildings being completely occupied while work is being done, Chianis explains. “It doesn’t get more complex than an invasive hospital renovation project. Part of it is the enjoyment of the challenge.”
A CAREER, NOT A JOB
Jeffery Smith was looking for a career and not a job when he joined Chianis + Anderson in 2004. The partners want their staff to look at the firm the same way. “Our office has not expanded and contracted based on the economy. If you’re with us, you’re with us. In today’s world, stability is very hard to come by. I want it for myself, and I want it for our staff,” says Smith.
Chianis + Anderson boasts a 65% female workforce and a welcoming, family-like culture. Chianis says he is extremely proud of his employees and the work ethic they bring to every project. “We are very selective about who we hire because this is a family. We want them to have the right attitude and skillset, but we want them to fit in with the existing employees. We want this to be a career, not just a job,” says Chianis.
The partners create that family atmosphere by hosting team outings like miniature golf, kayaking, and cooking classes. “At our company events we try to change the focus from work to who we are as people. It is important to talk to our employees about things other than business,” says Smith. From picking up bagels in the morning to putting a ping pong table in the back room, the partners try to make the environment fun for employees. Educational development is emphasized as well by providing lunch and learn sessions, encouraging employees to attend professional conferences, and promoting continuing education opportunities.
DESIGNING THE FUTURE
The future looks bright for Chianis + Anderson, with an eye on creating a legacy the partners can be proud of. While they strive for growth, they hope the small office feel and partner involvement in projects continues. Part of building that legacy will be to nurture some of their younger leadership and mentor them into future owners and partners. “We have a lot of people who have the ability to lead,” Chianis says, “the idea is to take [the firm], build on it, and continue doing what we’re doing.”
Anderson says he is excited to see what the future holds for the architectural industry as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a new world out there and it will be interesting to see where we go from here. What will the result be from these supply chain issues? In the past we have relied on basic building materials from other countries, so hopefully we will look within our own borders moving forward so we can avoid these interruptions in the future. As we have seen, the world can change in an instant.”
Smith hopes that the work they are doing makes a lasting impression. “There are a lot of historic buildings in the area,” Smith says, “I just hope that in the future people understand that just like every picture has a photographer, every building has an architect. There were design professionals who made that building a possibility and hopefully for that building to be around for a long time to come.”
PRESERVING HISTORY: THE DAVIDGE MANSION
Chianis + Anderson had planned to move offices when the historic Davidge Mansion at 31 Front Street suddenly became available. A developer was planning to turn the 1903 landmark into student housing, but the City of Binghamton put a stop to those plans. Chianis + Anderson made an offer and was able to purchase the building. “It’s a total gem,” says Chianis, “we could not have designed anything better for ourselves.”
The firm had not moved out of their old office building when COVID 19 happened, so they were unsure about whether to push forward with renovating the Davidge Mansion or pause the work. Ultimately, they decided to continue the renovation and preservation of the building and as soon as it was safe to do so, they brought staff to the new offices. The entire team moved themselves in over a two-day period, including over 300 file boxes, furniture, books, computers, equipment and belongings. Now staff from similar departments are grouped together, changing the flow of the office and allowing employees to interact more easily. “It’s changed the culture for the better and allowed us to share knowledge and information faster,” says Smith.
While they have done considerable work to the mansion, there is more to be done. “It’s not just a storefront,” Anderson says, “we are saving a historic building. The community is thankful for that.” Chianis hopes that the Davidge Mansion is part of the legacy of the firm down the road. Smith says that if Chianis + Anderson had not purchased the building, the Davidge Mansion would have been destroyed. “We are really part of the community now,” Smith says, “the building is not going anywhere, and neither are we.”
For more information, visit https://www.chianisanderson.com/.