A licensed architect and senior associate at Klein and Hoffman, Mike Naponelli focuses on the investigation and restoration of exterior building facades, specializing in high-rise buildings clad in masonry or concrete. As a project manager, he is responsible for site investigations, architectural and structural detailing and construction phase management.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in a large family in Crystal Lake, a northwest suburb of Chicago. I have five siblings and we are all approximately two years apart in age. Growing up I loved visiting Chicago with my family so when it came time to select a college, I decided on the University of Illinois at Chicago. I received my bachelor’s degree in architectural studies. I then went on to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for my postgraduate studies where I received a master of architecture with a structural engineering concentration.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Even at an early age I was fascinated with construction and how buildings were built. I loved watching construction sites and learning details for how buildings went together. My uncles are carpenters so the technical mindset runs in the family. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be involved in the construction industry, but I didn’t decide on architecture as a career path until high school when I started taking drafting courses.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Going through my undergraduate studies, I never knew there was a restoration industry. I had studied new design and had always intended on designing new buildings. The summer before going to graduate school I interned for Klein and Hoffman. I had no idea what the restoration industry held so I figured I would try it for a summer; if I hated it then I could intern elsewhere the following summer. That was twelve years ago and I cannot see myself doing anything else.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I have two mentors that I am consistently learning from and continue to lean on for guidance. Phil Renouf and Pete Power. They have been with Klein and Hoffman for decades and have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. I lean on them every day for advice and they have had a tremendous impact in shaping my career.
What does a day in the life of Mike Naponelli look like?
Each day I wake up shortly after 5:00 am to get ready and head to the train station. My commute is about an hour and a half each way. At any one time I am usually juggling around ten projects of varying sizes. Most of my projects require daily attention from either myself or my project team. Every day is unpredictable with what will arise on any given project. I come to the office with my daily agenda of tasks I would like to focus on; however, as questions or unforeseen conditions arise on project sites, I am typically pulled in another direction to review and address these conditions.
I spend a large amount of time in the field reviewing existing conditions and modifying repair details to accommodate uncovered field conditions. It is common for me to be working on drawings for one portion of my day and then head off to visit project sites for the remaining portion of my day. The variety and unpredictability of my day are part of the excitement. When I arrive home at the end of the day, I spend some time with my kids before they go to bed.
What do you like most about your job?
Every day is vastly different from the last and that is one of the aspects I enjoy most about my job. One day I may be climbing through a dark crawl space of an old building while the next day I am riding a swing-stage scaffold on the side of a building five hundred feet in the air. My job allows me to have a nice mix of field work and office work.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I hope to continue working on restoring the historic facades of iconic Chicago buildings.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
My nights and weekends are primarily spent with my wife and two young children. The kids really enjoy music so we usually have something playing in the house. When the weather cooperates, we try to get outside as much as possible, whether it be a walk around the neighborhood, going to the zoo or playing in the yard.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
My favorite place I have traveled to is Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands is a collection of islands in the Caribbean with beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. I hope to travel to Bora Bora at some point in the next five years. It is not an easy trip to take right now given the young children but it is on our must-see list.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Mark Price at FGM Architects.