Special Edition: Celebrating Leadership

  • Celebrating Leadership

    VMA is proud to announce that Sennah L. Loftus, Robert A. Douglass, and J. Scott O’Barr became Partners, in January 2024. This is the first time since 2008 that the firm has expanded its partnership and only the second time since its foundation in 1988. As part of the collaborative succession model that welcomes VMA architects to step up to new executive positions, the firm will steer towards sustainable expansion and strategic growth in the coming future.

    Following VMA’s completion of 35 successful years in delivering educational, cultural, and residential projects as well as building a niche in environmental stewardship and historic preservation, the three new partners join Daniela Holt Voith, Founding Partner, and John H. Cluver, now Senior Partner, to bear leadership responsibilities. In addition to this role, Sennah L. Loftus will be named Director of Interior Design; Robert A. Douglass the Director of Sustainability; and J. Scott O’Barr the Director of Residential Design.

    “As I look forward to the future of VMA, I also look back. Our new partners Sennah Loftus and Rob Douglass have helped build the firm to what is today as they have been involved in every aspect of our practice, while Scott has built up the residential practice in recent years,” says Daniela Voith. “This expansion of ownership acknowledges that VMA would not be where it is without this strong leadership team and I am excited to see how VMA grows in its breadth and depth of our work to serve our clients and community.”

    Closely supporting the new five-partner management and the firm’s creative efforts is the next generation of leaders: Robert P. Duke, Associate Principal; Isabella Bartenstein, Associate and Director of New York Office; and Nina T. Voith, Associate & Associate Director of Interior Design, and Meaghan M. Finney, Associate & Director of Communications,

    As VMA embarks on this exciting journey to grow and further our contribution to the world with high-quality design, the team remains true to our core value of sustainable beauty and underlining response to context, tradition, and history. We are the longest running woman owned architecture firm in Pennsylvania, we are now JUST certified and we have signed the AIA 2030 commitment.

2023

  • Business Innovation Building Wins National Design Award

    The Business Innovation Building at Lehigh University has been recognized with a 2023 National Design Award of Merit from the Society of American Registered Architects (SARA). A series of both general and specialized classrooms comprise the majority of the space inside the LEED Gold Certified building, including a financial services lab, a unique classroom-in-the-round, and a suite dedicated exclusively to the Vistex Institute for Executive Education. The awards, which SARA describes as “a celebration of creativity, innovation, and excellence in architecture and design,” are selected by a distinguished jury of industry professionals and were presented at a gala in Philadelphia. We extend our congratulations to every member of the project team and especially to our partners at Lehigh!

  • Staff Supporting Design Education

    This Fall, our staff participated in the Architecture + Design Education program through the Center for Architecture + Design, which partners interdisciplinary design professionals with K-12 classrooms in Philadelphia on semester-long projects. Our two teams each worked with their class’s students and teacher to ideate and realize activities like the design and construction of a log cabin, with the goal of exposing students to design as a potential career trajectory. Specialists from the Center facilitate the process throughout. We appreciated the opportunity to engage with all of the students and look forward to maintaining our participation.

  • VMA Takes Long Island at the Traditional Building Conference

    Over the summer, VMA joined industry peers at Oyster Bay on Long Island for the latest in the Traditional Building Conference series. In addition to engaging as active participants, two of our staff also presented as part of the program: Daniela Voith joined a panel discussion hosted by Marvin Windows that explored the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and Scott O’Barr shared his thoughts as an architect on the relationship of hand-drawing to computer-aided design. Scott then led a sketch tour of the venue’s amazing historic mansion so that attendees could practice their own sketching skills.

  • de Francesco Building Renovation Complete at Kutztown University

    Kutztown University held the official ribbon-cutting to reopen the de Francesco Building, home to the College of Business, which is now an active hub of collaboration and learning thanks to features like new lounges, a dynamic new entrance, and new active learning classrooms. The renovation also included a full systems replacement which, along with new energy efficient windows and other select elements, has improved the building’s ecological sustainability. The project marks not just another successfully completed business school project, but also represents our latest project managed by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS). Our team worked extensively with both Kutztown and with DGS representatives throughout the design process, and we extend our sincere congratulations on the project’s completion!

  • A Special Staff Milestone

    This November, we celebrated an amazing milestone: the 25th work anniversary of Kim Wajda, our indefatigable Director of Business & Human Resources. She maintains the stability of the firm’s operations and has seen VMA grow from less than twenty staff to a team of almost forty – which could never have happened without her hard work. We are so grateful for everything she has done, and continues to do, for the firm and our staff!

  • BMPC Wins PAGP Award

    The multi-faceted improvements to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church began with a comprehensive plan for their historic campus and proceeded through a phased renovation and restoration of multiple campus buildings. Now, the church welcomes congregants and visitors with increased accessibility and community spaces that are comfortable, efficient, and respectful of the existing historic fabric. The project’s success has now been recognized by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with a Grand Jury Award. At their awards ceremony in June, project team members joined other award winners and local luminaries for a celebration of preservation “wins” throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

  • Daniela Voith Named 2023 Huffard Architect at Deerfield Academy

    Daniela Holt Voith, VMA’s Founding Partner & Director of Design, was named as this year’s Huffard Architect by the Deerfield Academy community. This honor has been extended to one architect annually since 2005. In February, Daniela visited the Deerfield campus to speak about the personal influences that have shaped her personally and professionally, like the strong female role models in her family and the lifelong love of learning that has helped steer VMA’s specialization in the planning and design of campus environments.

  • Business Innovation Building Complete at Lehigh University

    The new Business Innovation Building is officially open and serving the Lehigh University College of Business. Sitting across from the existing Rauch Business Center, the new building is focused on graduate-level programs as well as the signature Vistex Institute for Executive Education which takes up the entirety of the third floor. Spaces like a “classroom in the round” will provide students with new opportunities for learning and collaboration.

  • Robert Duke Joins New Castle County Historic Board

    Robert Duke, Senior Associate, has been appointed to the Historic Review Board of New Castle County, Delaware. He will leverage his experience leading projects like the recent award-winning improvements to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church to review and advise on an array of preservation-related issues within the county, where he lives with his wife and family.

  • Another Phase at Silverman Hall

    Following our award-winning renovation and restoration of three historic classrooms within Silverman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, we are back working in a nearby space to bring the same level of detail-oriented revitalization. This marks the latest phase in a partnership with Penn Carey Law that goes back almost two decades to our original comprehensive plan for their multi-building complex.

  • Meaghan Finney Named as SCUP 2023 Emerging Leader

    Communications Director Meaghan Finney has been named among the 2023 cohort of Emerging Leaders by the Society for College & University Planning (SCUP). The interdisciplinary group of professionals selected represent colleges, universities, and planners from across the country. Meaghan, Membership Chair and member of the SCUP Mid-Atlantic Council, is passionate about the role of effective communications in developing successful campus plans and co-authored an article in 2022 on the relationship of higher ed planning and historic preservation.

  • VMA Shares Campus Planning Expertise

    Daniela Voith, Founding Partner, and Robert Douglass, Senior Associate, partnered together to share their significant campus planning expertise with the members of the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) through a webinar in April. They covered topics like understanding options for sustainability, appreciating the relationship between strategic planning & campus planning, and considering the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. Daniela has personally led dozens of campus plans for independent day and boarding schools throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, working with clients like Germantown Friends School, Millbrook School, and The Pennington School. Rob is especially interested in the effect of campus environments on student outcomes, as well as the intersection of planning and sustainability.

  • Staff Acccomplishments: Summer 2023

    We are so proud of our staff members who have leveraged our professional development benefits to pursue an array of design accreditations. Please join us in congratulating:

    Kaetlin McGee, Sustainability Coordinator, has become the second VMA staff member to achieve Certified Passive House Designer (CPHD) accreditation. Passive House is a rigorous design methodology that emphasizes a highly efficient envelope to achieve energy performance.

    Adam Hoover, Project Designer, is now the second VMA staff member to achieve WELL AP status from the International Well Building Institute (IWBI). WELL is a holistic certification that includes sustainability in its metrics as well as things like occupants’ access to healthy foods.

    Jordan Schrad, Project Designer, has achieved LEED Green Associate accreditation from the USGBC. LEED is the most common sustainable building certification in the country.

  • Groundbreaking at Middlebury College

    After years of careful planning and design, an exciting new addition to the Middlebury College campus is officially underway: a new first-year student residence hall! As reported in the college’s press release, community and accessibility were important drivers behind the new building’s design. The project will replace Battel Hall and will provide almost 300 student beds once complete in 2025.

  • Matthew McCarty Tapped to Lead ASID Eastern PA

    Matthew McCarty, Preservation Designer, was named President-Elect of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter. He has been active with ASID for several years and holds Allied ASID accreditation. Matthew will be heavily involved in supporting the chapter’s leadership before moving into the President role in the next fiscal year.

2022

  • VMA Signs 2030 Commitment

    In June, we took an important step to formalize our commitment to integrated sustainable design by signing the AIA 2030 Commitment, an industry-wide pledge to achieve carbon-free architecture by 2030. It kicked off an intensive internal effort to quantify exactly how we would achieve positive change to meet the commitment’s goal, resulting in a Sustainability Action Plan that was approved in December. Stay tuned – highlights will be shared in a special email newsletter in early 2023.

  • VMA Expands with New York Office

    Early in 2022, we were thrilled to share the news of a “first” in VMA history: the opening of the firm’s first satellite office. Our New York office is located in the heart of the Financial District at 1 Whitehall Street. It hosts permanent full-time staff in addition to team members from our Philadelphia office who can work there as needed, helping us better serve clients throughout the Northeast.

  • Staff Achievements

    We are celebrating three staff members whose service with local non-profit organizations has been recognized with appointment to leadership positions:

    Robert Douglass was appointed to the Board of the Thomas Jefferson University Center for the Preservation for Modernism. In this role, he will help develop opportunities for Jefferson preservation students to enhance their learning outside the classroom and will advise on other issues related to the Center.

    Kevin King was appointed to the Board of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia (PAGP). Kevin has long been a volunteer with the PAGP and currently serves as co-chair of the Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance.

    Matthew McCarty was appointed to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) PA East Board as Director-at-Large. He has been involved with ASID since his college days and will help the organization plan professional development and outreach opportunities for chapter members.

    Congratulations Rob, Matthew, and Kevin!

  • First WELL AP at VMA

    Elie Zeinoun, part of VMA’s New York office, became the firm’s first WELL Accredited Professional, marking a new chapter in our commitment to sustainable design. WELL is a holistic certification program that looks at both a building’s technical performance as well as its impact on the humans who will be inhabiting each space. With more and more of our clients seeking options for meeting their sustainability goals, we are thrilled to able to them with more information on a system that is growing in popularity.

  • A Multi-Phased Partnership at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church

    One of the most satisfying things for our team is seeing the final results of several years’ work come to fruition, and that was the case earlier this year at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Our partnership with BMPC began with a campus-wide plan to help mitigate issues like accessibility and safe vehicle circulation. The highlight is a new “link” that creates a clear point of entry that connects to the church’s historic sanctuary as well as its bustling Ministries Center, greatly improving the experience of congregants and visitors alike. The link was the last of multiple phases of work that included sensitive alterations to their Education Building and exterior repairs to improve envelope performance.

  • A Night of Celebration at the Trumbauer Awards

    After a multi-year hiatus, the ICAA Philadelphia Trumbauer Awards returned to celebrate achievements in traditional design – and VMA had plenty to celebrate! Molly Jorden received a Student award for work completed at the University of Notre Dame; our longtime partners at Millbrook were recognized for their Patronage of traditional architecture; and our dramatic transformation of Abbott Dining Hall at The Lawrenceville School was one of several design award winners. The awards ceremony was an excellent opportunity to join our peers from the design industry in celebrating some truly remarkable projects.

  • Partying Like It’s 2019!

    For the first time since 2019, VMA hosted its annual party in November to welcome partners, clients, family, and friends to our office in gratitude for their support. It was the first party for several members of our team, as we have grown significantly in the past few years! We spend the day rearranging desks, chopping vegetables, arranging flowers, and putting in the effort necessary to deliver a first-class event – and this year was no exception. Many thanks to everyone who joined us – and we hope to see you again this year, too!

Special Edition: Green Gazette

  • Introducing the VMA Green Gazette

    Kaetlin McGee, Sustainability Coordinator, took the initiative to develop a newsletter on all things sustainable at VMA: the Green Gazette! We’re pleased to share the excerpts from the first issue which debuted October 1, 2021.

    WELCOME TO THE GREEN GAZETTE!
    “The One Where Kaetlin Starts a Newsletter”
    Are you looking for the latest and greatest in green building technologies? Do you need a one stop shop for sustainable news within the firm, Philly, and beyond? Well, you have come to the right place!

    The purpose of this newsletter is to keep VMA staff up to date on what’s happening in the green building industry. It is my hope that each team/department uses this as a source of information to add to their architectural arsenal, or at the very least, learn a fun fact. As sustainability coordinator, it is my job to care about these things, and I hope to add to your passions for sustainable design by creating a fresh newsletter unique to VMA’s practices.

  • Branching Out

    “Design Solutions Combine Beauty & Structure”

    WholeTrees Structures gave a very informative virtual presentation in September. Their Structural Round Timber (SRT) products use cull trees – trees that are normally weeded out of timber forests for being too small or having too much character. They can be used cosmetically or structurally, often out performing steel columns. Branches have a naturally high axial and lateral strength because the wood’s composition is not affected by cutting it.

    They had a ton of design examples including grocery stores, zoos, amphitheaters, playscapes, and indigenous community centers. One of the biggest takeaways for me was the company’s focus on creating local jobs and industry surrounding sustainably managed forests. WholeTrees has taken care to ensure SRT products can coordinate with traditional building materials as well.

  • Sustainability Symposium Recap

    “Green Building United 2021 Even Held Virtually in September”

    The theme for this year was Equitable Decarbonization in the Built Environment. Overall, it was a great event, and I learned a lot of new terms and resources surrounding sustainable design. It was cool to have people from different companies and backgrounds from across Philadelphia, come together to have a constructive discussion on the challenges we face as global citizens in the building industry.

    The keynote speaker was Donnel Baird, CEO of BlockPower. His startup created a unified technology platform that analyzes a buildings energy usage. They take this a step further and help clients finance these projects, as he often works in underprivileged communities. He emphasized how workers, capital, and data must work together in order to make the necessary improvements. When combating disbelievers, Baird said he likes to “break it down to a level even my kid can understand”. A building manager can get easily overwhelmed with green building upgrades, and that’s when BlockPower steps in.

    One session I attended was Operationalizing the Whole Life Cycle Carbon Approach. Panelist Cecilia Freeman talked about how to make more mindful interior design choices. I also attended Diverse Voices for Change – Women Architects in a Quest for Regenerative Design. Here, each panelist discussed a project they completed, and how they worked through their respective certifications. It was also great to hear the opinions of architects from other countries, learning how their culture and leadership strategies impacted their design methodologies.

  • It's Not You, It's Me

    “Why Clients Are Breaking Up With LEED Certification”

    As a sustainability coordinator new to the architecture industry, I was surprised to hear that some clients are no longer interested in LEED certification. No more memorizing urinal flowrates? What about the fancy plaques in the entryway? With the building sector consuming 20-40% of all energy produced in the US, why are we shying away from USGBC’s green building standard?

    As the climate crisis worsens, one would expect the 23 year old certification program to be in it’s prime. But alas, the honeymoon phase is over between USGBC and new construction. Purse string holders are turning more and more to a “LEED certifiable” building standard, minus the fancy plaque. In some ways, I see the appeal; no certification costs with all the perks of a green building. And in any case, if sustainable design is a “given” nowadays, why pay extra for good design?

    Still, there are die hard LEED fans who trust the process. Obsessive documentation holds project teams accountable on sustainable building standards. An architect quoted in one blogpost says “I’d feel better about not pursuing LEED if I felt there were a true commitment and we had other ways to prove the overall sustainability of the project. But in most cases, I feel if the project loses LEED, they’ll lose any hope of a more sustainable project.” The plaque stands for so much more than an extra design cost. This will definitely be a multi-part article, so stay tuned as I research more on this topic.

  • A Quiet Place

    “No Monsters Here, Just a Loud Transit System”

    In July, INTUS Windows gave an interesting virtual presentation on sound abatement. They provided many examples on how chronic noise can have a damaging impact on city dwellers. This presentation resonated with me (pardon the pun), as I remembered all the times during quarantine where I screamed internally about the noise outside my apartment, dreaming about traveling to the middle of nowhere for some peace and quiet.

    Noise exposure in building design is not new news. In 1975, a study was done in New York City on how noise from an elevated train effected student’s reading ability. Children attending classes on the quiet side of the school had less interruptions and were more engaged with the lessons. On the other side, students were a full reading level behind peers in the same grade due to the train noise.

    Want your hotel room comped? Pick a room next to the interstate or airport. One of the biggest complaints in hospitality is noise preventing a solid nights sleep. The right window selection can save a company from refunding rooms and receiving negative reviews.

  • LEED Credit Spotlight: Quality Views

    This indoor environmental quality credit is worth a whopping 1 point. The intent is to give building occupants a connection to the natural outdoor environment by providing quality views. 75% of all regulatory occupied spaces must have a direct line of sight to the great outdoors.

    Something I have looked into for several credits, is LEED’s definition of “regularly occupied spaces”. Luckily the website provides a list of examples, one of which is a correctional facility cell or day room! This goes to show how important daylight is for human health and wellness (even if it is only 1 point).

    As crazy as it sounds, yes, you can have a LEED certified prison. There are several located across the US. In some cases, there are even educational programs to teach inmates about LEED design.