2 min read March 2022 —In an interview with Invest:, Merilee Meacock, partner at KSS Architects, discussed the digital transformations that have driven the firm’s success over the pandemic along with architectural innovations that emphasize sustainability and sensory experience.
What were the successful strategies KSS Architects implemented to navigate this unprecedented time?
We learned that we could do a lot more digitally than we ever thought. We made a great deal of progress on working digitally throughout the pandemic and even grew the size of the firm by more than 20% since the start of 2020. In this era of hybrid work, we aren’t always sitting next to each other sketching by hand. Of the many digital options available, Miro and Mural are two design programs we have been integrating. We are also crowdsourcing more information across our three offices, which has allowed us to engage the full power of our firm. Our takeaway from this time is that we need a balance of physical and digital connection to really thrive as humans.
Our firm is really focused on making those human interactions more meaningful because in a hybrid environment they are fewer and farther between. From a design standpoint, architecture can play a role in encouraging collaboration and connecting people. The quality of a built environment can encourage those human connections. As designers, creating neighborhoods, campuses and buildings that foster human connection is something we are keenly focused on now more than ever. If you are going to have a digital environment, you will need a very powerful physical environment. A great example of this is Amy Gutmann Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, which we are working on in collaboration with Lake|Flato Architects. The design of the mass timber building is focused on drawing data science students, who can essentially do their work anywhere, to the building through the creation of a warm and inviting, yet technologically rich, environment.
What distinguishes KSS from other architects in the region?
What sets us apart is that we really think with both sides of our brain. We pride ourselves on balancing the pragmatic with the visionary. There are architects who are focused on one or the other, but we work to provide both at the same time. This gives our clients solutions that are functional, efficient and cost-effective as well as innovative and beautiful.
What role does architecture play in a more diverse and equitable community?
Architecture plays a huge role in creating more diverse and equitable communities. KSS strives to design built environments that are inclusive and supportive of more than just one type of user. We do this through many different design strategies, including focusing on the human senses to give people a space they can experience and navigate independently and intuitively. This is especially true for the neurodiverse population and seniors with low sight and/or hearing. These spaces provide more transparency and open up new opportunities for them that may not otherwise have been considered. If someone is struggling to navigate a space, that space wasn’t designed for them. We want people to feel welcomed in our designs.
Another strategy we use is biophilic design, which connects people to the natural environment through the use of direct and indirect nature. There are simple ways that this design can be integrated. From accommodating plants and pets in the office, adding daylighting or using natural materials, people are looking for ways to reconnect with nature as society becomes more technological. These are sensory experiences that bring a power of place that people really need and are therefore drawn to.
How has the rapid integration of technology platforms changed the way KSS conducts business?
Our work flows across three offices, located in New York, Princeton and Philadelphia. By shifting to digital platforms during the pandemic, we have become a tighter-knit unit. Zoom and Teams have enabled us to join meetings, trade ideas and crowdsource ideas across the three locations. There is a lot of functionality on these platforms now to really engage audiences. Zoom breakout rooms have been a great resource for community engagement, allowing our teams to bring together a diversity of people from different neighborhoods to share ideas and brainstorm in smaller groups and in a more relaxed setting. It has really enhanced our efforts to involve community members in our design process since people can join from anywhere.
How is KSS strategizing to recruit and retain the next generation of talent?
One of our strategic plan initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion, formalizes something we have been practicing for a long time. In my 32-year history with KSS our community-centric culture has allowed us to grow from eight to 85 people, many of whom are women. To elevate our work and continue firm expansion, we hope to further engage more diverse voices through partnerships and recruiting.
We believe exposure is the critical path to increase diversity in our profession, and within the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry as a whole. For more than 15 years, we have been actively involved in the ACE mentorship program, the mission of which is to engage and excite high schoolers about careers in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. Through our involvement in ACE’s Newark, Hightstown and Philadelphia chapters we hope to expand students’ ideas of what careers are available to them and cultivate the next generation of talent in our area.
For more information visit: