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Alum John J. Veisz, AIA, CSBA Builds Architecture Foundation at Mercer; Puts MCCC Grads to Work


West Windsor, N.J. - Do you know what it takes to be an architect?

That's a question John Veisz '77 (A.A., Humanities and Social Science and A.S., Architecture) needed to answer when he first started his studies at MCCC in the 1970s. And, he says, "Mercer proved a great place for me to explore my field."

Veisz recalls that there was little emphasis on art and music in the parochial school he attended right through high school. But he was drawn to the arts anyway and took summer art classes.

Veisz's decision to enroll at Mercer was groundbreaking. "I was the first in my family to go to college," he explains. "Money was an issue and Mercer seemed to have what I needed and was interested in. I was trying to find a way to channel my art in a practical direction." He recalls receiving an excellent foundation, graduating with honors in 1977 with degrees in Humanities/Social Science and Architecture.

John Veisz '77

He continued his education at Kent State University in Ohio, a natural choice since he had relatives there and discovered that MCCC faculty member Bob Sharon was moving out there to teach. Veisz went on to earn his bachelor's in science degree at Kent State and then finished up a fifth year to earn a professional bachelor's in Architecture degree, the standard path at the time.

Veisz knew then what is common knowledge now: Working in your field during college is essential to getting a job after graduation. He spent two summers back home in New Jersey working for Bowman, Blanche, Faridy Architects (a Trenton area firm founded in 1918 as Micklewright & Mounford Architects, more recently known as Faridy Veisz Fraytak Architects). This helped him gain real world experience and develop professional connections. He accepted a full time position with the firm after graduation in 1980, and worked there for the next five years.

Then Veisz decided it was time to branch out. He worked for a Bowers Design Associates, a Princeton area design/build firm, then for a national company, and then for one that specialized in roof consulting, design and construction administration. Most intriguingly, he developed expertise in forensic investigation of building envelope failures, a specialty that assesses and determines the cause of water infiltration and material failures in existing construction. As an outgrowth of these services, he has also been called on to provide litigation support services in the aftermath of those failures.

Veisz rejoined his original firm in 1995, then known as Faridy Thorne Fraytak Architects - Planners, and became a partner in 2000. They are now Fraytak Veisz Hopkins Duthie, P.C., Architects - Planners.

For some time, the firm has specialized in education projects. It is the architect of record for the MCCC Conference Center, which opened in 2001 and has since become an active educational hub for businesses, as well as a popular meeting place for governmental agencies, nonprofits and corporate entities. "We are very pleased with the success that important campus project has had in the county," Veisz said.

Using engineering and other subspecialty consultants, staff members play a key role in project coordination, guiding clients through the complex process of sustainable design, bidding, evaluating, and awarding jobs, and overseeing construction. "We strive to assure a proper level of conformity with the original project budget and design intent," Veisz says.

The company has increasingly focused on environmentally responsive construction, including greater use of solar panels. Currently it has more than 35 solar projects completed or underway in various stages of planning, design and construction, as well as numerous new facilities that are heated and cooled utilizing ground water source geothermal heat pump systems.

"We have been proactive in reinventing ourselves," Veisz says. "New employees bring new skills and approaches critical to continued success." The staff includes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified architects, a credential that has become a benchmark for sustainability initiatives through a collaborative design process governed by the US Green Building Council.

"In the LEED system, points are accumulated for various 'green' elements implemented into a building project, with the overall goal of reducing energy usage - the more points, the higher the level of sustainability for a project," Veisz explains. This includes focusing on local materials to reduce transportation costs and active building material recycling.

Coming at sustainability from a slightly different perspective, Veisz himself is a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor through a national program, an approach that relies on holistic environmental decisions. He notes that the goal of integrating "environmentally friendly" designs principles balances costs, both in design and construction, long term, reliable material performance, and overall energy reduction that can make a "green" building project a valued investment for clients.

Veisz continues to get great satisfaction from the firm's projects - a library renovation project at Lincoln University in Chester Co., Pa., currently under construction, and the recently completed New Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor Township that meets both LEED criteria and Homeland Security Best Practices, which seek to minimize a public building's exposure to attack and damage.

Overseeing 29 full and part-time staff members, Veisz notes four current employees are graduates of MCCC's Architecture program and that he has had as many as eight on staff at one time. (His partner, George Duthie, is also an MCCC Architecture alum.) He has especially appreciated those who have continued for their four-year degrees at Drexel University, which has a coop program that enables students to work for the firm full-time while completing their education.

"I'm a little biased, but we favor Mercer grads and it's always a good choice," Veisz maintains. "We appreciate the foundation they receive at Mercer. Maybe it's because some have had to make sacrifices to attend college, but generally, they are more serious, focused and grounded self-starters. This has been a very consistent and positive hiring experience for us."

Serving several semesters as an adjunct instructor at MCCC a few years back, Veisz had a chance to help a new generation of students answer the question of just what it takes to be an architect. In one assignment, students were required to interview a working architect, "which opened their eyes to misconceptions and helped them get a more realistic perspective," Veisz says. In another assignment, he asked them to take photos of an aesthetically pleasing built environment and critique what they liked. "It was a great exercise that allowed students to begin to realize that they have been learning about the built environment their entire lives," Veisz recalls, noting that he would like to teach again in the future

For now, Veisz's goal is to work with his partners, George Duthie and Ted Hopkins, to usher the firm through its centennial in 2018. "That will be a very rewarding professional and personal experience for all of us."

More information about Veisz Hopkins Duthie is available at their website here. Veisz invites students interested in architecture to email questions to him at info@fvhd.com.

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