Summer 2021

  • New Team Members Join VMA

    Continuing our momentum in the beginning of the year, we’re thrilled to welcome six new team members to VMA.

    Arismaldy Cruz, Interior Design Coordinator, worked for a high-end residential firm after graduating from Jefferson University. She is a constant crafter who is especially fond of creating cut paper art.

    Kaetlin McGee, Sustainability Coordinator, holds a degree in mechanical engineering from SUNY Buffalo. She regularly with Bethesda Project, an organization that supports and provides emergency shelter for Philadelphians experiencing homelessness.

    Maria Niedziejko, Designer, recently earned her graduate degree from the Catholic University of America, where she was President of the school’s AIA Student chapter. Her frequent baking projects have proven to be a real treat for her new co-workers.

    Cevan Noell, Designer, is a recent graduate of Jefferson University, where he studied both architecture and historic preservation in addition to serving as Treasurer for the school’s NOMA Chapter. He is an avid musician who can play guitar, bass, and keyboard.

    Aylen Phommachanh, Interior Design Coordinator, is a currently studying interior design at the Community College of Philadelphia. She brings extensive community-oriented experience, like her work with the Khammouane Development Project in Laos.

    Barry Whitfield, Designer, holds a degree in interior design from the Community College of Philadelphia and recently graduated with a degree in architecture from Jefferson University, where he was Vice President of the university NOMA Chapter. He spends much of his free time applying his professional skills to the restoration of his own home.

    You can read more about our growing team here.

  • Lehigh Business Breaks Ground

    Construction for a new marquee building for the Lehigh University College of Business is officially underway. At a groundbreaking ceremony held in May, Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips said that “the joy of our new building goes beyond structure. For me, it symbolizes how we are embracing new ways to engage business students, business leaders and business faculty.” The 74,000 sf building, which sits catty-corner from the Rauch Business Center, reflects the university’s tech-forward approach to business education.

  • Brown Hall Modernized and Restored at Princeton Theological Seminary

    Brown Hall, completed in 1865, is one of several historic buildings on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. A sensitive modernization has helped bring Brown Hall into the 21st century as a residence hall. Single rooms are equipped with private bathrooms. Lounges on each floor, perfect for studying, feature furniture produced from wood salvaged on site.

  • Preservation Alliance Recognizes Two Projects

    We are proud to have two projects recognized through the annual awards program hosted by Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. The seating replacement and accessibility at the Academy of Music and the renovation of three historic Silverman Hall classrooms at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School both received Grand Jury Awards. The Silverman Hall classrooms were also honored by AIA Philadelphia and IIDA PA/NJ/DE Chapter through their awards programs after being featured in Traditional Building magazine last year.

  • On The Boards: Summer 2021

    Our growing team is bringing a variety of different perspectives to the exciting work we have underway right now.

    At Kutztown University, a reimagined DeFrancesco Building will bring new vibrancy to the university’s business programs. A new main entry will better direct circulation while creating a prominent focal point.

    Cresson Hall at Lincoln University is one of the most historically significant buildings on campus but has been underutilized for years. A renovation and restoration will bring it back to service as a residence hall.

    Next door to Cresson Hall, construction is almost ready to begin at Vail Hall, another part of the historic main campus of Lincoln University. Originally built as a library, today it houses the President’s office and other administrative functions.

Special Edition: Passive House

  • Rob Douglass: Passive House Retrofits for Older Buildings

    Rob Douglass is a Senior Associate at VMA and recently became our first Certified Passive House Designer. In our most recent e-newsletter, he shared examples of how Passive House can help benefit our institutional clients. For this follow-up, he expands on those concepts to explore how Passive House can be applied to the retrofit of older buildings.

    I believe that Passive House offers exceptionally useful tools, based in good building science, that can help develop new buildings in a more sustainable manner. Knowing how many of our school and university clients have adopted campus-wide carbon reduction goals, though, it is worth exploring how Passive House can also help improve the performance of older buildings as well.

    It starts with the question: do we consider a building in the context of an historical object, or a living asset? Because many of our projects are for active, living buildings which need to continue serving their campuses productively, we try to balance between the two extremes which means including the energy profile of the building as an important aspect in developing an effective design response.

    We prefer to use energy modeling to help us establish what the best approach is for an older building, balancing energy use against a number of factors: the likelihood that intensive efficiency interventions may significantly impact the long-term durability of a masonry building; that “tightening” a building in certain climates and use-profiles has energy use implications of its own; and the potential impacts to a building’s historic character brought by aggressive retrofits.

    Fortunately, the Passive House Institute recognizes these challenges – as well as the benefits of preserving our built heritage – and gives an alternate compliance path that certified designers can use to map future renovation. EnerPHit, a retrofit plan which is typically pre-certified by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), allows for an overall strategy to be identified and for work to be completed in phases. The project might start with window and door replacement as a summer project to improve occupant comfort, continue to roof upgrades at the end of the current roof’s service life, and finish with wall upgrades at a time when the building’s general lifecycle calls for an interior renovation. The standard also recognizes that the Passive House thresholds for energy use and air-tightness might not be achievable in an older building, and establishes alternate paths and criteria specifically for retrofitted buildings.

    It is worth keeping in mind that vernacular styles were developed as a direct response to their specific environmental conditions – older buildings were often designed and sited to minimize energy use, for instance by taking advantage of cross breezes for natural ventilation. Maintaining a conscious connection to these living traditions is fundamental to finding a new equilibrium in our rapidly evolving habitat. This concept of the “original green” can help us bridge the perceived divide between historic preservation and sustainable design.

  • Scott O'Barr: A More Comfortable Home Through Passive House

    Scott O’Barr is an Associate at VMA and leader of our growing residential practice. In our most recent e-newsletter, he shared examples of how Passive House can help benefit homeowners. For this follow-up, he expands on those concepts to explore how Passive House can deliver not just a high-performance home, but one that is inherently comfortable.

    When approaching the design of a new home, “comfort” is understandably a top priority for most of our clients. Although it may not be the first thing that comes to mind to most people when they think of Passive House, producing an extremely efficient well-insulated building actually leads to a naturally more comfortable interior that can be an important end result in the final design.

    Imagine: no more drafty windows on a cold winter day or dealing with air-conditioning that proves ineffective in our increasingly hot and humid summer climate, thanks to the high-performance building envelope called for in Passive House standards. Other benefits of those thick exterior walls include less intrusion of noise from traffic or other causes and, thanks to the reduced need on mechanical systems, less dust and other external irritants brought inside.

    While the high energy efficiency of a Passive House is great for the environment, the fact that it leads to interior environments that are healthier, quieter, and generally more comfortable for occupants helps make a strong argument for clients who are considering pursuing Passive House standards.

Spring 2021

  • Construction Begins on Penn’s Biotech Commons

    The transformation of the University of Pennsylvania’s Biomedical Library into the new Biotech Commons is officially underway. VMA produced the project’s original feasibility study, then led a design process that reinforced the collaborative and tech-forward nature of the Commons. New windows will open up to the surrounding campus and share the activities taking place within. Biotech Commons will be open for the Fall 2021 semester.

  • Rob Douglass Recognized as Certified Passive House Designer

    Please join us in congratulating Rob Douglass, who has been accredited as VMA’s first Certified Passive House Designer (CPHD) by the International Passive House Association. Rob leads VMA’s strategic approach to sustainable design and believes strongly in the benefits of Passive House principles in delivering practical, effective, and energy-efficient architecture. He committed to months of study and a rigorous exam process in pursuit of this certification and is now in the perfect position to advise other VMA staff who are pursuing CPHD accreditation this year.

  • John Cluver Co-Presents SCUP Keynote on Villanova Campus Development

    John Cluver joined representatives from Villanova University and Robert A.M. Stern Architects to present one of the keynotes at the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP) Mid-Atlantic 2021 Regional Virtual Conference in March. The team shared details on the collaborative process that led to the successful completion of projects like The Commons student housing and the Mullen Center for the Performing Arts, especially the approach to community engagement that ultimately led to a stronger design response.

  • New Additions to the VMA Team

    The past six months have been a period of remarkable growth in our office. We are so pleased to introduce the following new staff members:

    Suki Che is the new manager of the VMA interior design studio. She loves working with her hands, whether sewing or making pottery, and draws inspiration from her travels.

    Ricky Jimenez DelValle brings experience with adaptive reuse projects and an educational background in historic preservation to our design team. He speaks Spanish fluently and is always ready to talk about soccer, his favorite sport.

    Anna Fowler holds advanced degrees in interior architecture complemented by a minor in sustainable design. She loves to play the clarinet and considered music education before pursuing design as a career.

    Alison Kass, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, can go beyond designing homes to actually building them, having spent a semester in college building a home from the foundation up. Since arriving in Philadelphia, she has been particularly struck by the city’s many murals.

    Jeff Lewis, AIA, has a breadth of experience ranging from contemporary high-end residential projects to more traditional institutional design. He is happy to admit, though, that post-modern architecture is his favorite.

    Tarin Martinez, a student at Bryn Mawr College, joined VMA to build on her coursework with real world experience. She brings a passion for design honed through working for her family’s aerospace design/build manufacturing company.

    Matthew McCarty is the latest addition to our historic preservation studio and has particular experience working at the intersection of preservation and interior design. After spending seven years in the horticultural industry, he still has a strong personal passion for gardening.

    Steven Schloeder, PhD., AIA, is a specialist in the planning and design of ecclesiastical architecture, especially for Catholic congregations. He joins us after almost twenty years managing his own firm.

    Tyler Stull is not just a designer, but also an experienced IT support professional. His passion for sustainable design has led him to research regenerative design and energy modeling.

    You can read more about all our staff here.

  • Daniela Voith Named President of ICAA Philadelphia Chapter

    Daniela Voith has extended VMA’s involvement with the Philadelphia Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) by accepting the role of President. The mission of the ICAA is “to advance the appreciation and practice of the principles of traditional architecture and its allied arts by engaging educators, professionals, students, and enthusiasts.” Daniela previously led the chapter’s Education Committee and is serving on the jury for the 2021 Bulfinch Awards, held by the ICAA New England Chapter.

  • On the Boards

    Our strong reputation for architecture that reflects innovation in the context of tradition has led to exciting new partnerships:

    The renovation and restoration of the historic Sedgwick Theater, shown above, on behalf of Quintessence Theatre will combine two of our specialties: preservation and performing arts design. The goal is to transform the theater into “Northwest Philadelphia’s landmark cultural destination.”

    At Middlebury College, design is underway on a new dormitory to replace Battel Hall, the traditional home for first years on campus. We are also developing conceptual designs for a new student center and new art museum.

    Planning for the relocation of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is underway, with conceptual designs in progress that make the most of their new site at Gwynedd Mercy College. The heart of the new campus will be a chapel designed to reflect the seminary’s mission and heritage.

  • Sennah Loftus Named Knoll Emerging Leader

    Sennah Loftus has been named a member of this year’s Knoll Emerging Leaders Program cohort, nominated for her role as executive leader of our interior design studio. This eleven-month program connects an array of rising design professionals through a series of weekly professional development workshops hosted by national leaders in the AEC industry. Knoll, one of the nation’s foremost interior design suppliers, established a curriculum that covers topics like applied improvisation for leaders, effective techniques for delegation, and the fundamentals of business writing.

Fall & Winter 2020

  • "Law & Order:" Traditional Building Profiles Silverman Hall Classrooms

    Traditional Building magazine recently featured our work renovating and restoring three classrooms at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, situated within historic Silverman Hall, and highlighted the project’s balance of preservation with the integration of cutting-edge learning technology. Daniela Voith explains that “we like to say that we design spaces for the development of the mind and the development of the soul. These three classrooms do both.”

  • African American Museum of Bucks County Looks Forward to New Home

    We are proud to have been part of the expert team behind the renovation and restoration of Boone Farm, also known as the Godfrey-Kirk House, for its conversion into the first permanent home for the African American Museum of Bucks County. The Middletown, PA property, a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1717 and will retain many of its historic features when the museum opens. AAMBC has served as a mobile museum since 2014, hosting temporary exhibits throughout the county and visiting area schools to share African American history, culture, and heritage with students.

  • Project Awards & Recognition

    We’re so proud to have our work recognized with a number of awards this year:

    University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Silverman Hall Interiors

    AIA Philadelphia Honor Award, Historic Preservation/Adaptive Reuse

    University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Silverman Hall Classrooms

    IIDA PA/NJ/DE Chapter, Best in Education/Institutional <30,000sf

    AIA Pennsylvania Chapter Design Awards Finalist, Historic Preservation

    The Lawrenceville School Abbott Dining Hall

    ICAA Stanford White Award, Commercial, Civic, and Institutional Architecture

    ASID Eastern Pennsylvania Design Awards, Honorable Mention – Institutional Design

    Millbrook School Callard House

    ASID Eastern Pennsylvania Design Awards, Winner – Institutional Design

  • Millbrook School Dining Hall Named for Longtime Headmaster

    In November, Millbrook School formally named their new dining hall for Drew Casertano, headmaster of this Hudson Valley boarding school for decades. As our working partner throughout three comprehensive campus plans and over a dozen capital improvements, we have seen Drew’s commitment to Millbrook firsthand and congratulate him on this important honor.

    Daniela Voith offered the following statement: “Drew’s tenure at Millbrook has been so transformative under his clear, passionate leadership. He has been such a positive force and I have learned a lot from his example. Listening to the post on Facebook this morning I almost started to cry: the Dining Hall is all about building community and no one has done more, or cared more about that, than Drew. He and Linda have cared for the school with grace and love so to have that place carry their name is imbued with deep meaning.”

  • Celebrating Staff Achievements

    Congratulations to Robert Duke on earning his professional accreditation through the American Institute of Architects (AIA)! Rob achieved this career milestone while simultaneously managing some of the firm’s highest profile projects, like The Commons at Villanova University, as well as the inevitable disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We are extraordinarily proud of his dedication throughout and hope you’ll join us in wishing him continued success.

  • On The Boards

    As a full-service design firm, our slate of projects continues to run the gamut from large, new construction to more targeted technical preservation work. Our reputation as one of the nation’s premier campus architects is also reflected in the new and renewed partnerships we are developing with educational institutions:

    We are pleased to be working again with a local independent school, transforming a former garage into a STEAM center appropriate for students of all ages at this PK-12 girls’ school. VMA completed a feasibility study for the project in 2018.

    Work is underway on a comprehensive campus plan for Green Hedges School, a PK-8 independent school in Virginia. Programming meetings conducted earlier in the Fall, held outside in tents with physical distancing, will help inform a series of suggestions for campus improvements.

    Following a series of studies for Philadelphia Youth Basketball, we are thrilled to be working with them on the design and construction of a new dedicated home for this community-oriented program that empowers young people as students, athletes, and positive leaders.