Balancing Preservation and Performance at Penn Law
Our latest partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is stunning proof that historic preservation and contemporary design needs are not mutually exclusive! We renovated three classrooms located in what had originally been the grand reading room of Silverman Hall, designed by Cope & Stewardson, using an approach that prioritized celebrating the rooms’ existing historic details while still enabling their use as high-performance 21st century learning environments. Each of the three classrooms were redesigned to offer different opportunities regarding capacity, layout, and the types of pedagogy they can support. They were also outfitted with large LED arrays attached to freestanding steel assemblies that could be installed with minimal impact to the existing architecture. Hidden cove lighting highlights the new panels as well as the original repaired plaster ornament that run the perimeter of the vaulted ceilings.
Coming Soon(er): County Theater Consolidates Construction Schedule
We want to thank all of our construction partners for their diligence in mitigating the impact of mandatory work stoppages implemented in response to the Covid-19, as well as for their commitment to following health & safety best practices on their jobsites upon reopening. Thanks to their efforts, we continue making progress on projects across the region.
One of those projects has been the expansion of the County Theater located on the Main Street of Doylestown, PA. Construction was originally split into two phases so that the theater could remain open throughout. When it became clear that the pandemic would require the theater to shut down for at least several months, however, the project team turned a challenge into an opportunity: taking advantage of forced closure to consolidate two phases of construction into one. Thanks to this plan, work is now scheduled for completion months earlier than originally intended.
Once completed, the theater’s addition will include a new concession lobby, restrooms, and a 175-seat theater. The design will also continue the strong historical identity of the district and surrounding buildings, including a street-level storefront to continue the rhythm of the commercial street which it is located on. You can follow updates on the theater’s website here.
VMA Adapts to the "New Normal"
We are fortunate to have made a relatively smooth transition to working remotely the past few months in response to the pandemic. So, what exactly has WFH looked like for our team? This inforgraphic helps tell some of the story!
While working from home has offered some challenges to maintaining the collaborative office culture that was established prior to COVID-19, we’re nevertheless proud of out team for coming up with innovative ways to collaborate, create, and connect- both professionally and socially. This has included weekly themed happy hours and virtual coffee chats to replace those little moments of chatter in the communal office kitchen, allowing those remaining in Philly and those who have decamped elsewhere to feel like they’re still only a few desks away. We’re especially loved when “guests,” be they pets or kids, drop by to say hi. VMA staff even each offered some of their favorite tunes to give you a curated VMA Work From Home Playlist, available here.
Our office reopening plans are in place for when the time is right to return, which we certainly hope is soon, but in the meantime we continue to send our very best wishes to each and every one of our friends and partners.
Celebrating Staff Achievements
We’re pleased to announce the promotions of three VMA staff members:
Scott O’Barr, AIA, has been promoted to Associate. Scott joined VMA in 2019 bringing experience with traditional design & preservation, especially for residential commissions, some of which have been published in New Old House, Period Homes, and Architectural Digest. He has served in leadership roles for both AIA Philadelphia and AIA Pennsylvania and actively volunteers with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Philadelphia Chapter.
Ryan Dougherty, AIA, has been promoted to Senior Project Manager. After recently managing the Center for Social Impact at Malvern Preparatory School and the Performing Arts Center at Villanova University, Ryan is currently working on a diverse array of projects for The Catholic University of America, Saint Joseph’s University, and Kutztown University.
Andrew Lipschutz has been promoted to Senior Project Manager. Andrew has contributed to award-winning projects for The Lawrenceville School and The Hotchkiss School. He is currently managing a new center for Philadelphia Youth Basketball and a new residence hall at Gettysburg College. For several years, he has volunteered with the Partnerships for Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS) at the Franklin Institute which fosters leadership and STEM skills in young teens.
A "Phase 1" Milestone at Church Farm School
The Buck Family Center for the Arts, a significant part of the Phase 1 campus improvements at Church Farm School, is now complete! The Center will consolidate the school’s arts program into a centralized and modern facility with studios, labs, classrooms, an exhibition gallery, and practice & performance spaces. The Phase 1 projects are the firs to come out of the comprehensive campus plan produced by VMA; they include a new campus entry, new parking, and renovations and additions to Greystock Hall, the school’s main academic building. You can read more about the exciting improvements coming to CFS here.
Best Wishes for Yiran Zhao
Please join us in congratulating Yiran Zhao as she leaves VMA to pursue her Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design. Yiran worked with VMA after receiving a Bachelor Degree in the History of Art with a Minor in Growth and Structure of Cities from Bryn Mawr College where she studied under Daniela Voith. During her time at VMA she contributed to projects at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Saint Joseph’s University, and the Academy of Music.
Millbrook School Dining Hall Wins ICAA Stanford White Award
Millbrook School Dining Hall has received a 2019 Stanford White Award in Commercial, Civic, and Institutional Architecture. The annual awards program, held through the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, recognizes projects in architecture, interiors, landscape, urbanism, and building craftsmanship & artisanship that demonstrate classical or new traditional design.
The new 400-seat dining hall is airy, quiet, and architecturally expressive of the school’s mission and identity, giving the school community a space to dine together daily and a venue in which host special events. Millbrook’s commitment to sustainability is embedded in the building’s design through material choices, daylighting, geothermal systems, and framed views to the school’s organic gardens to the north. The project had previously received a Trumbauer Award from ICAA’s Philadelphia Chapter and was featured in Traditional Building magazine.
John Cluver Inducted Into the Carpenters' Company
This February, VMA Partner/Director of Historic Preservation John Cluver officially signed the registry of the historic Carpenters’ Company of Philadelphia and was formally inducted as a member. The Company, founded in 1724, is the oldest extant craft guild in the country. It supports, engages, and educates leaders of the architecture, engineering, and construction industries while also providing stewardship over its home, Carpenters’ Hall, a landmark whose significance includes its role as host of the First Continental Congress in 1774.
VMA Continues to Grow!
VMA is excited to introduce several talented individuals who are contributing to our continued growth. Please join us in welcoming Troy Posnansky, Kevin King, Nathaniel Gotcher, Derek Supinsky, and Roya Aghaeifar, who bring with them diverse skills in data analysis, interior design, and architectural design.
But we’re not done yet – we continue to look for creative individuals to join our team of architects, planners, interior designers, and preservationists! Contact us today to apply.
Villanova University Pedestrian Bridge Recognized with Two Awards
Villanova University’s Lancaster Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, completed in association with Robert A.M. Stern Architects, has won two separate awards for its design and construction. The Delaware County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers named the bridge its 2020 Outstanding Project of the Year and it also received a 2020 Transportation Design Award from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. The bridge offers Villanova students and visitors a practical, elegant, and safe elevated walkway over bustling Lancaster Avenue, and required significant planning and foresight to accomplish. Congratulations to our team members!
APPA Loves "Trends in Classroom Design & Technology"
Following their successful reception at the NJAPPA 2019 Spring Meeting and through a live webinar hosted by ERAPPA, Partner John Cluver and Associate Principal Sennah Loftus joined representatives from Rutgers University (portfolio link) and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School (portfolio link) to present “Trends in Classroom Design & Technology” yet again – this time for a webinar hosted by APPA itself. The continued relevance of the topic shows that integrating technology to create effective learning environments is an ongoing issue for higher ed facilities professionals nationwide. A recording of the webinar is available through APPA’s YouTube page here.
Lessons in Church Stewardship
Associate Robert Duke and Project Manager Jeffrey Peters represented VMA during a half-day workshop on church stewardship held in conjunction with Partners for Sacred Places and Keast & Hood structural engineers. The team presented on topics ranging from basic maintenance to planning & implementing capital improvements, with a special emphasis on the challenges faced by those managing historic buildings. Rob and Jeff each have experience working with congregations on addressing needs to their facilities, most recently at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and drew from their own lessons learned before offering a case study on VMA’s renovation of the Neighborhood House at Christ Church Philadelphia where the workshop was held.
Celebrating Staff Achievements
After hours and hours of hard work, along with their strong dedication and commitment to the architectural profession, staff members Anne Niedrach and Maggie Holsinger have successfully completed their journeys to professional accreditation. We are proud of their accomplishment and hope you join us in celebrating this important milestone in their careers!
Both Anne and Maggie have recently spent their time working on some of the firm’s higher education projects. Maggie was involved in the renovation and restoration of classrooms in historic Silverman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, while Anne has been managing the renovation of Brown Hall dormitory at Princeton Theological Seminary.
A Visit with "Friends"
We were pleased to welcome two Germantown Friends Students, Kenji and Jude, into our studio for several weeks in January. As part of their junior project, the two shadowed our staff members on job meetings, gained experience with some design software basics, helped archive design sketches, and learned more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into running an architectural firm. Best of luck to both of them!
If you’re a student or teacher interested in similar opportunities, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Cameron Mactavish Takes New Role as Partner Emeritus
At this year’s Annual Party, VMA was joined by our partners, friends, and family to celebrate Cameron Mactavish and to raise a toast to his new role as Partner Emeritus. We were honored by how many people turned out and proud to be sharing this moment in VMA’s history. After a trip down the Atlantic coast with his wife on their self-restored sailboat, we look forward to welcoming Cameron back this Spring as he trades daily office life for a more limited part-time role in the firm’s operations.
Montclair Kimberley Academy Primary School Expansion Opens
This September, the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Primary School welcomed students into its new expansion for the first time. The existing school needed a larger space on campus where the lower school could come together as a whole. The new expansion is a creative and practical response to that problem and includes a flexible cafeteria/auditorium, which can serve as a single large assembly hall or be divided for daily events, such as lunches or class performances. The new entrance and surrounding site were reconfigured to better support daily pick-up/ drop-off, and a central hall with built-in benches sized for students overlooks the pick-up/drop-off area. Throughout the expansion, the layout and design balances transparency, view to outdoor spaces, and natural light with the need for safety and security.
VMA Welcomes Scott O'Barr
VMA is excited to announce that J. Scott O’Barr, AIA, NCARB, has joined VMA as our newest Project Manager. Scott has extensive experience in not only the design of new buildings, but also in restoration and adaptive re-use of historic buildings and sites. His work, which has been featured in New Old House, Period Homes, and Architectural Digest, is a perfect fit for the VMA philosophy of delivering “innovation in the context of tradition.”
Outside the office, Scott is involved in the Philadelphia Chapter of The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, and is on the board of Friends of Lemon Hill, an organization supports the preservation of the 19th century Lemon Hill Mansion in Fairmount Park.
The Grange at The Hotchkiss School Wins 2019 SARA National Design Award
The Society of American Registered Architects (SARA) has recognized The Grange at Fairfield Farm, a unique facility on the campus of Connecticut’s The Hotchkiss School (link), with a 2019 SARA National Design Award of Honor. The Grange was designed to support the school’s student-focuses agricultural program which immerses them in nature and instills a sense of local and global responsibility for natural resources. Students harvest and process crops which are then served in the school’s dining hall. Taking cues from nearby vernacular agriculture forms, the flexibility of The Grange allows it to act as a classroom, dining, or event space; a vegetable washing station; a cooking classroom; and a highly insulated basement for bulk storage. Congratulations to The Hotchkiss School and to all our team members!
Daniela Voith Speaks at Anbound Conference
Daniela Voith spoke as part of the Pedestrian Oriented Development (POD) Forum hosted by Anbound, a Beijing-based think tank, which focused on the topic of how progressive urban zoning policies can help deliver improved well-being for residents, shorter commutes, better walkable environments, and more active mixed-use developments. Her presentation was based in part on her experiences on Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission and Zoning Advisory Group as well as contemporary case studies including the impact of the the Comcast Technology Center and changes in the city’s rowhouse zoning.
On the Boards
We are excited about the many projects currently on the boards, most of which represent our strong reputation as a firm that specializes in campus design and planning. Some recent highlights include:
University of Pennsylvania. We completed the preliminary plan for the Biotech Commons, a re-imagining of Penn’s existing Biomedical Library, back in 2017 and are now working with the university on advancing the series of phased improvements.
St. Joseph’s University. As executive architect for the first projects to emerge from the university’s comprehensive campus plan, we are developing early documentation for several projects including a new residence hall, new student center, Athletics Center renovation, and a new home for the Kinney Center for Autism.
Millbrook School. After working with Millbrook on our third campus plan together, we are embarking on significant improvements to their athletic facilities.
St. George’s School (shown). We are well underway on a comprehensive evaluation of their Newport, RI campus to produce a plan that will specifically address their residential program as well as greater, long-term considerations of facilities.
The Commons Opens at Villanova University
The campus evolution of Villanova University has taken a significant step forward with the grand opening of The Commons student housing, hallmark of the university’s multi-phased Lancaster Avenue improvements which also included a new parking garage, pedestrian bridge, and a Performing Arts Center still under construction. As architect of record for this transformational project, we joined university officials and project team members – including representatives from our design partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects – for the ribbon cutting ceremony in August. Students are now in residence and the feedback has been enormously positive, with many visitors remarking that the buildings look “as if they have always been here” – which is exactly the effect that the university hoped to achieve!
Lawrenceville’s Abbott Dining Hall Wins IIDA Award
The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware Chapter has recognized Abbott Dining Hall at The Lawrenceville School with an Honorable Mention Award for Education/Institutional projects as part of their 15th Annual Interior Design Awards program. Brittany Gross and Hunter Faddis of the VMA interiors studio were part of the team on hand to accept the award. The inspiration behind the project was a desire to create a sense of “love and loyalty,” incorporating elements like wallpaper created from photos of the campus landscape, flags with symbols of each residential house, and symbols drawn from the school’s rich traditions and lore.
Welcome Yiran, Jordan, and Sayali
VMA continues to grow! We recently welcomed Yiran Zhao, Jordan Schrad, and Sayali Gudekar to our team.
Yiran, Draftsperson, is a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a talented artist. She looks forward to learning practical architectural skills and learning more about a project’s life cycle here at VMA.
Jordan, Draftsperson, recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is most looking forward to learning as much as he can about the design process. He is especially exited about working on college and university projects.
Sayali, Sustainable Design Specialist, worked as an architect on small-scale projects before returning to school and graduating with a Master of Science in Sustainable Design from Jefferson University. She is passionate about developing dynamic and efficient design solutions that are environmentally harmonious.
We are still actively seeking design professionals who share our philosophy of seeking innovation in the context of tradition and look forward to welcoming even more new faces to our office in the coming months.
VMA Presents “Classroom Trends” for NJAPPA and ERAPPA
John Cluver, Partner, and Sennah Loftus, Associate Principal, joined representatives from Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School at the New Jersey Chapter of APPA (NJAPPA) Spring Meeting for a presentation and panel discussion on “Trends in Classroom Design & Technology.” After sharing different examples of learning environments that incorporated advanced technology in unique ways, the dialogue focused on how high-tech classrooms can help advance institutional goals and how facilities staff in particular were engaged during each project. The audience feedback was so positive that the session was presented again during a live webinar hosted by the Eastern Regional Chapter of APPA (ERAPPA), which was recorded and can be viewed via their YouTube Channel here.
Ryan and Kate Spend the Summer at VMA
Our staff were joined by two temporary additions this summer: Ryan Gebhart from and Kate Silber.
Ryan, an architectural student at the Catholic University of America with a strong interest in campus planning & design, contributed to several projects but said that his favorite was a feasibility study to adaptively reuse a historic building on a local university campus as a welcome center for prospective student athletes. He somehow also found time this summer to publish Hidden Within, the second book in his young adult fantasy series “Jewel of Life.”
Kate, a student at Haverford College, interned in our interior design studio and hopes to pursue a career in architecture upon graduation. In addition to coordinating furniture installations and other project logistics, she also contributed heavily to the staging of our intensive photoshoot at The Commons at Villanova University – a task very much in line with her personal interest in photography.
Both Ryan (far left) and Kate (far right) can be seen in the image above acting as “models” for the Villanova photoshoot. We appreciate all the hard work done by both of them over the summer and hope you’ll join us in wishing them all the best this Fall!