Ojay Pagano on Designing and Building in San Diego

Alumnus Ojay Pagano (BArch ’04) established an architecture and development practice to work on his own projects. After earning a bachelors at Woodbury, he came back to complete a MSArchRED degree and learn the ins and outs of building and bringing projects to life. As a licensed architect & general contractor, his architectural and real estate worlds crossed paths in 2006 when he was able to see his first small scale development come to life as an experimental co-housing addition “The Big White Box” in North Park. We recently caught up with Ojay to discuss real estate development and design in San Deigo and what it means to build today.

Interview with Ojay Pagano

Q: Why did you choose to study architecture?

Initially I was studying graphic design, I chose Architecture as an alternate. I was hooked after my first design studio and didn’t look back.

Q: You’ve seen San Diego evolve and develop. What role do you believe architects play in urban development?

The role of the architect depends on who you ask. In general we are supposed to know a little bit about a wide range of things. Construction, Finance, Real Estate, Building Codes, Social issues, Technology, Contracts, etc. We play a role in threading all of these together with each project.

Q: You started Ojay Pagano Architecture & Development in 2016. Why did you make the move to start your own practice, and what kind of projects do you work on?

It felt like it was the right time, I was losing patience at the office I was at. Being a project manager/designer is one thing, getting your own projects and seeing them through to the end is another thing. I find the latter much more gratifying and challenging.

The projects I like to work on are small scale multifamily projects. Nothing fancy in terms of budget or size, but almost always tricky with zoning, construct-ability and programming. I wouldn’t know what to do with a big budget!

Q: Architects often face questions of narrowing project scopes. With changes to climate, technologies, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

I believe architects will have to bring more to the table than just design. I’m not sure I could simply just do “architecture” even now. I also have a contractor’s license, I have to know first hand how trades work in order to design/build anything to a budget. Knowing and practicing more than just “architecture” will be essential to advance. Architecture is simply the baseline now.

Q: What type of projects have you enjoyed working on most?

I enjoy working on my own projects the most.. All of them, each unique with their own challenges. The development projects are the most intense. The process is an insane journey that can last years. From the time you find a property, put an offer, secure financing, design, permits, break ground, pass inspections, occupy them, maintain them, rent them, get to know the tenants, remodel them. It’s as if these buildings/projects take on lives of their own, its crazy!

Q: What advice would you give to students and young designers who aspire to follow a similar career path?

If you don’t love this stuff, turn around now. Its intense. To be more practical, I would say be patient. Get experience anywhere you can and get various types of experience. Bounce around a bit. Try big firms, small firms..etc. Be agile. I worked at a landscape architecture firm for two years once and loved it!

Q: What three words would you use to describe Woodbury?

Transformational. Raw. Intimate.


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