History of CF / CFA / CFB
The Founding Fathers and a Few Friends
Celli-Flynn Brennan was founded in 1949. The original partners were; Mario C. Celli, FAIA, Raymond C. Celli, AIA and William V. Flynn, AIA. Each has a unique history and background that is important to an understanding of the firm, its development, ethics and excellence.
Immigration and Education
Raymond and Mario Cherubini-Celli were born in the land of the Etruscans, as children Remigio and Mario sailed from France into the American dream. Raymond was a 1928 graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology [now Carnegie Mellon University] as an architect, and Mario was a 1932 graduate of Carnegie Tech, each with a Bachelor of Architecture. Following a year of travel and study in Italy as an architect, Mario proceeded to work at various depression era projects for the national Works Progress Administration and others. Mario and Raymond Celli measured and did architectural drawings of the Meason House for Charles Stotz’s book “The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania” published in 1934 and funded as a historical project by the Buhl Foundation. Mario painted murals at Bushy Run and he painted a large mural in the ‘heroic style’ of muscular steelworkers using the ladles and liquid molten steel of 1930’s technology. This mural is oil on canvas and is still extant, dated 1934, on the wall of the Council Chamber in the original City Hall in Monessen, PA. His early architectural experience took him to the office of Benno Janssen, a very well-known Pittsburgh architect, where he received training from the best. A book about Benno was written by Donald Miller, Pittsburgh architectural historian, author and journalist, entitled “The Architecture of Benno Janssen.” Mario later went to work for the Rust Engineering Company designing paper mills and employee facilities throughout the south. He rose to chief architect – the position he held at the founding of Celli-Flynn Architects and Engineers.
Raymond Cherubini-Celli studied architecture at Carnegie Tech, graduating in 1929, then went on to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, France where he further explored his talents as a painter and a violinist as well as an architect who inherited his father’s love of antiques. While in France Raymond met a fellow architect and formed what became a lifelong family friendship with George Nakashima, an architect and later a famous internationally prominent Japanese/American woodworker. Nakashima was in France studying art, sculpture and architecture. After returning to America the two began their careers in architecture; Nakashima discovered woodworking and the two brothers Raymond and Mario became his lifelong friends. George Nakashima, of Samurai lineage, was a keen observer of nature and a philosopher. He captured his philosophy when he authored observations in “The Soul of the Tree” a famous book about philosophy, wood and the making of objects by hand with natural materials. Mario also held this same belief. These three had lengthy discussions of philosophy, nature and architecture.
After France, Raymond set up a small practice in the Century Building in Pittsburgh from 1935 until 1949.
Architect and Poet
William V. (Buzzy) Flynn, AIA was originally from McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Buzzy had been a star basketball player for Carnegie Institute of Technology [now Carnegie Mellon University] and was a fabulous artist, architect, caricaturist, poet and raconteur. Flynn’s published poems were under the pen name “Vincent Edward”. “Poems and Thoughts” consists of ideas saved over a period of forty years of life, love, war and philosophy. After serving as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy during the war, he opened his office in McKeesport in 1946. By 1949, larger projects were available, McKeesport was booming and Flynn needed to form a firm. Flynn called fellow Carnegie Tech graduate Mario Celli and Mario said “I’ll come if my brother Raymond will come”; thus the three formed Celli-Flynn Architects and Engineers known as CF. Mario Celli brought large paper mill projects and employee facilities at a number of industrial sites throughout the South. Bill Flynn, through his contacts in the Mon Valley, was able to secure major public housing work and school district work in what was then was a center for growth, a booming and bustling McKeesport and surrounding communities. The Celli-Flynn firm took off quickly with Bill Flynn in charge of marketing, Mario in charge of design and Raymond in charge of specs and construction administration.
A mere eight years later in 1958, Celli-Flynn Architects and Engineers was listed as among the top 500 firms in the “Engineering News Record” yearly report on architectural and engineering firms. The firm CFA also provided structural, mechanical and electrical engineering from 1952 under the guidance of John W. Morgan P.E. their engineering partner. Unfortunately, Raymond Celli passed away unexpectedly in 1959.
That year, Mason Aldrich, AIA joined the firm and so did Paul P. Rona, AIA whose career was to span 42 years at Celli-Flynn. At CFA many successful Pittsburgh architects passed thru the training and mentorship of Mario at Celli-Flynn as Mario had with Pittsburgh Architect Benno Janssen. The tutelage was wonderful and many recent Pittsburgh architectural firms can trace their beginnings to 335 Shaw Avenue in McKeesport, when it was a vibrant and crowded community building for the future.
Paul Rona’s contributions were large. He had been a skier on the Hungarian National Team, and a Davis Cup Tennis player representing Hungary. He was lucky to escape with his brother in 1956. Having graduated from the Technical University in Budapest, Paul was the consummate technical architect as European schools always emphasized engineering. He had a hand in every major project that passed thru the office from the first David Lawrence Convention Center to the Hillman Library.
As the work developed, Mario took charge of design and he formed a strong bond with another philosopher and lover of nature, John O. Simonds of the Simonds and Simonds Landscape Architectural firm. John Ormsby Simonds, born on the prairies of North Dakota, was later recognized as ”The Landscape Architect of the 20th Century”, so honored by The American Society of Landscape Architects. This same honor was bestowed a century earlier on Frederick Law Olmstead. Simonds authored a book “Landscape Architecture”. Mario and John, often with the involvement of George Nakashima, created a number of stunning buildings and landscapes and woodwork throughout Western Pennsylvania including high schools, elementary schools, churches, convents and similar projects. Mario designed his own home to include a unique blend of Japanese and Italian philosophy.
As the firm grew in stature, especially in the school building field, Mario became President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and President of the Pennsylvania Society of Architects. In that role, Mario came to know as a friend Governor Lawrence and others who were overseeing the growth of Pennsylvania.
Governor Lawrence appointed Mario to the State Board of Education. In 1962, that board created the “Area” school districts that are prevalent throughout Pennsylvania today. Over 2,000 school districts existed in 1962 and the reorganization created by that State Board of Education brought that number down to 502 school districts. In 1964 the firm was chosen as architects to design and to build the David Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Mario Cherubini Celli, FAIA, was granted the Honoris Causa Doctorate degree honoring his achievements in Architecture as recognized both Nationally and Internationally in the field of Education. Mario C. Celli, FAIA was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a Fellow of the AIA in 1966. At the same time he was appointed to represent the USA on the Schools Commission of the International Union of Architects. In that capacity he travelled the world exploring educational buildings design with architects from many countries. He secured a Ford Foundation grant to host the international conference in the late 60’s in California to investigate the ‘open plan’ schools that were new then. As a result of those efforts, the firm was selected to be on the architecture team for Pittsburgh’s Great High Schools.
Thomas C. Celli Enters the Firm
From his early days as a 12 year old, Thomas served as the ‘blueprint boy’ during summers; and later as an apprentice draftsman throughout his teenage years. Two construction related jobs come to mind as young architect that really impacted his thinking about ‘how raw land could be turned into something spectacular’. In the summer of 1961, at age of seventeen, Tom was hired by Parente Landscaping to work with a landscaping crew on the installation of all of the trees, shrubs, ground cover, etc. at the McKeesport Senior High School. That project really opened Tom’s eyes to what a hard 12 hour day of work with a pick and shovel meant. Tom also learned to get along with a group of young immigrant Italians whom Parente brought to this country specifically to give them a chance to earn a living and to exercise their skills related to planting. His crewmates spoke only Italian.
An apprentice job over two college summers as student architect had a riveting impact Tom’s knowledge of buildings. Mario suggested that education did not begin and end with the drafting table. Instead Tom continue to learn the art of architecture from the ground up as he was retained as bricklayer’s apprentice by the Cost Corporation and worked on the building of the Trees Pool at University of Pittsburgh, on the Wilkinsburg Hospital and a number of other projects. Tom vividly remembers descending the stairs to the basement of the Fort Pitt Hotel in the company of a union member. He entered as a guest of the union and was introduced to the union meeting of the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers of Western Pennsylvania; on the spot he was sworn into the union. From that moment Tom was a union apprentice, a “card carrying bricklayer”. Those construction experiences were invaluable in terms of understanding of myriad of things related to construction from the ground up. He acquired the insiders knowledge of the kind of labor, energy and coordination that it takes for a contractor to be successful on a big project.
After receiving a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell in 1967, Tom began as a fulltime designer at Celli-Flynn and Associates and as Tom fulfilled the requirements for architectural registration in 1971 became a registered architect. An international experience was to travel to Bordeaux, France as a working student architect for a French Architectural firm during a summer to gain another view of firms and their approaches to problem and resolution. After graduation he received the “John Root Traveling Fellowship” awarded by Cornell University which enabled Tom as a post graduate architect to travel and study the ruins of Aztec, Mayas and Incas examining the ancient culture and architecture. His travels included Mexico, Brazil and Latin America concluding at the high point of Machu Picchu.
On to the Big City
As the Mon Valley began to suffer the effects of a deteriorating steel industry throughout the late 60’s and 70’s, McKeesport’s population began to fall from the high of 62,000 in 1949 when the firm started to about 24,000 today. That decline ruined downtown McKeesport and the firm moved to Pittsburgh in 1973 because all of the large work on the boards at that time was in Pittsburgh. The engineering departments were closed because of the first time availability of many choices of first rate consulting firms. In order to recognize the efforts of many of the staff, the name was changed to Celli-Flynn and Associates.
Big Public Projects
CFA had been named general architectural consultant to Kaiser Engineers for the ‘Skybus’ project and was in charge of all station design. Later in 1975 when Skybus was politically shutdown, the firm became the lead designer for the Steel Plaza Station on the light rail system. Our research had taught us that stations did not have to be dull. The Steel Plaza Station was the site where the Port Authority, and Bill Milar, after listening to Tom’s observations that there needed to be Classical Music in the Subway, received a grant to do just that. Tom, CeCe Summers of WQED, and Vincent Sarni of PPG- lifted batons and magically, there was and is Classical Music in the subway- another Pittsburgh First. Such acoustical perfume is in use in many underground systems today.
Similarly, the firm had been assigned the design of the new Pittsburgh Convention-Exposition in 1964 “The David Lawrence Convention Center”. The project languished historically from the beginning because the county and city authorities could not get together on how and where to place this building. A large site selection study ensued and the present site of the David Lawrence Convention Center was agreed upon in 1974. The site chosen by the clients did not allow for the future expansion. Though advised by the architects that the site and building program was too small, the municipal fathers decided to proceed.. The first Pittsburgh convention center was designed and bid in 1977 and finished in 1981 featuring the world’s first cable-stayed space frame, attracting engineers from around the world. Later when space proved insufficient, the building was removed in 2002 and the present structure erected.
“Innovation” has always been a part of CFA efforts and other firsts for the firm would included the development of a log pond process to soak wood logs prior to the start of processing in the paper mills of the early 50’s. Japanese paper makers were so entranced with this simple idea that they traveled to McKeesport and to various sites in the south with Mario to look over this new invention. Another would be the first open classroom school in Western Pennsylvania at Stewartsville Elementary School in Norwin. And another is the Northern Terminus Interchange of the Mon Fayette Expressway. That glass and stainless bridge allows one operator to oversee the entire plaza from the bay window in the center of the span.
During the 80’s and 90’s CFB directed much of its efforts to the evolving construction boom in colleges and universities across the country. CFA designed a unique science building at Susquehanna University which became a standard for science buildings to come. In 1989, Fisher Hall was created with the first interior atrium in a science building. That atrium was four stories high and from it CFB developed large windows to look into the labs so that students passing by could see “science on display”. A very smart Academic Vice President, Dr. Jeanne Neff at Susquehanna realized the opportunity the building presented and began to teach English, History and Political Science on the top floor. As the liberal arts students wandered up past these laboratories they would go in and ask their fellow students what they were doing and many began to realize that the jobs were plentiful in Biology and Chemistry and much more difficult to find English or Political Science. Accordingly, the innovative atrium and glass drove science enrollment up 69% in four years at Susquehanna. That building became one of the centerpieces of the National Science Foundation’s Project Kaleidoscope handbook on how to design science buildings. Putting “science on display” has been a key part of architectural design at colleges and universities ever since.
The largest project undertaken in the 80’s was a unique legislative office addition to the PA State Capitol. The legislature had passed a Joint Space Program that called for 700 cars of underground parking and 250,000 sq ft of additional office spaces for the House of Representatives and various other state agencies. As the project evolved under the direction of the Department of General Services, it grew to 840 cars of parking, a full level of offices connecting the Capitol, The North and South Office Buildings and the Old Museum Building. A major exterior plaza, five fountains, a minor rotunda to mimic the capitol, a food court and other spaces. All was executed in the Italian Renaissance style to fit comfortably with the Capitol-generally recognized as the most important architecturally among the 50 states. Paul Goldberger, the well-known architecture critic of the N.Y. Times called it “the most ambitious project in the classical style since the National Gallery of Art.” Others admired it as well and Classical America bestowed the coveted Arthur Ross Architect Award on Thomas C. Celli, AIA at a ceremony in NY where the award was presented by international architect I.M. Pei in 1986.
In addition to becoming a nationally recognized as a firm skilled in public projects and educational facilities design for colleges and universities, the firm developed a wonderful reputation for rehabilitating religious structures. Older churches throughout Western Pennsylvania and neighboring states had been built in the early part of the 20th Century and they needed to be restored in unique ways. Further, in smaller towns like Steubenville, Ohio, congregations were failing and churches started to merge, forcing facilities decisions. With that expertise came a number of church projects from the First United Presbyterian Church in Steubenville through the restoration of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, for which the CFB team won every award possible for interiors renovation. Following those were the restoration of Henry Hobson Richardson’s Shadyside Presbyterian Church, a project at the Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church and three major Catholic cathedrals.
William P. Brennan, AIA, LEED AP, Joins the Firm
Bill’s earlier career had involved his being the managing partner of an 80 person Pittsburgh office for a large multi-city architectural firm. While doing so Bill, in addition to his design skills, had developed all of the office management skills associated with personnel, controlling in-house costs, budgeting for projects and recognizing what it took to make an architectural firm financially strong and professionally the “best”.
In the year 2000, marking the 50th anniversary of the firm Celli-Flynn and Associates Architects and Planners, the President Thomas C. Celli, AIA, expanded the firm and changed the name from CFA to Celli-Flynn-Brennan. Bill became a shareholder at CFB and has helped the firm to prosper over the last eighteen years.
Bill had developed expertise with historic preservation and had worked on major landmark buildings such as the Wanamaker Building in Philadelphia, the United States Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., the Union Trust Building in Pittsburgh and other major historic structures that were repurposed to offices, retail needs and hotels as appropriate.
Today he manages the staff and finances of the firm while actively participating in the design and management of specific projects.
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Eileen Macioce Joins the Firm as Associate Principal.
Eileen Macioce joined CFB in 2010 as our Office Administrator. In the years she has been with the firm she has excelled in all areas of administration for the office. Eileen is responsible for office management, finance and proposals.
Celli-Flynn Brennan Today
66 years after its founding, the firm is working on college and university buildings from Nebraska to North Dakota to Missouri and, of course, Western Pennsylvania. Recently, the firm expanded its operations into Bulgaria because Tom joined the Board of Trustees of the American University of Bulgaria in 2009. Tom was approached by Princess Maria-Luisa of Bulgaria to join this Board because the American University was building a completely new campus in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, and realized that those involved had no background in campus planning or student facilities associated with an American style liberal arts college. Tom helped with the remaining campus planning duties as a trustee/advisor.
Tom’s role as a Trustee allowed him to help with the new concepts and character of the new campus center plans with a talented Bulgarian architect. The new building was opened in the fall of 2012. Because of that work, the firm’s reputation in Bulgaria grew and CFB finished a Master Plan for the American College of Sofia (ACS), a first-rate, English language prep school. CFB is now working at ACS on a new campus center, a new library and restoration of (Old Main) Ostrander Hall.
In recent years CFB has forged a successful relationship with Bucknell University. In 2014 after a competitive selection process CFB was awarded the Historic Renovations of the Carnegie Building at Bucknell University. We helped the University reposition and reimage the aging building into a campus gem. Following the success of this project CFB was awarded 5 additional projects: Dana Engineering Building Stair Replacement; Demosthenean Hall Addition & Renovation, Bucknell Hall Feasibility Study and Renovation; Stadium Press Box Renovation; and the renovation of 64 University Ave.