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Distinct perspective: 'People are people,' says partner at KSS, a woman-led firm in male-dominated architecture industry.

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Merilee Meacock, partner at KSS Architects in Princeton.
Merilee Meacock, partner at KSS Architects in Princeton. - ()

KSS Architects is an anomaly in a male-dominated industry: a majority women-owned firm with more than half of its workforce made up of females.

Firm partner Merilee Meacock said that achievement is a direct result of the company’s culture. It’s something KSS has instilled during her 27 years at the firm.

“The thing I love about the firm — and what I think attracts a lot of people — is that it’s very family-oriented,” she said. “From the day I walked in, someone had their 2-year-old visiting for a day and people would have their dog with them.

“I had just graduated from college and I thought, ‘I can really live with this; this is a neat atmosphere,’” she said. “I think that’s the reason we attract a lot of women, because we’re understanding of people’s lives, whether they have children or need maternity leave.”

This means circumstances at the firm range from people working from home to having pregnant women on construction sites.

“As long as you have intelligence and you’re willing to be a part of the community, we’re all the more willing to bring you into the firm,” she said. “People are people.”

Meacock said this focus on the personal experience is what drives the firm’s success outside of its employee attraction and retention.

“We’ve built a whole market within a firm that basically deals with community and how you build neighborhoods or options for people for schools,” she said. “We have pretty diverse markets within the firm, but the common theme is that we believe in humanity.”

One project the firm is currently working on is a facility for adults with autism at Rutgers University.

“People with autism are only funded through the state through the age of 21,” Meacock said. “After they turn 22, they’re kind of on their own and the services dry up.”

Rebecca Hale, left, works with Sheila Nall, principal, director of interior design.
Rebecca Hale, left, works with Sheila Nall, principal, director of interior design.

Because the state is well-known for its autism services, she said, there is a need for continuing services as people with autism reach adulthood.

“A lot of people move to New Jersey for autism services and, when the children graduate from their schools at the age of 21, all of the sudden we have this situation where we have all these adults with nowhere to go,” she said. “Rutgers has seen that for a potential opportunity to provide amenities and jobs for people with autism.”

The company is also focused on what Meacock calls the “psychology of architecture.” For projects such as the one at Rutgers, this means designing the ways buildings sound and feel to create a comfortable environment for people with autism.

But it’s also about creating positive environments for all people, Meacock said.

"As long as you have intelligence and you're willing to be a part of the community, we're all the more willing to bring you into the firm." ­- Merilee Meacock, KSS Architects' partner

“We’re into providing places for connection, choice and change,” she said. “That appeals not only to the millennials that work here, but to the clients that have millennials that they’re serving, like higher education institutions.”

This idea, that the firm strives to find projects with a purpose, has been successful in attracting millennial workers to the firm, Meacock said. The generation making up roughly 75 percent of the firm’s workforce.

“I think we attract a lot of millennials because of our culture,” she said.

Outside of this work, Meacock said, the firm encourages its workers to get involved with their communities.

“I chair my zoning board in Cranbury and one of the other partners runs a commerce initiative in Guatemala,” she said.

Edmund Klimek, left, partner at KSS Architects, collaborates with Merilee Meacock on a project.
Edmund Klimek, left, partner at KSS Architects, collaborates with Merilee Meacock on a project.

While this culture has been in place since she started with the firm, Meacock said KSS has changed a lot since she joined in 1990.

“Back in the day, there were six people here, three of them were partners, and we were in the back of a pizza parlor in Princeton,” she said.

The company is still neighbors with Conti’s Pizza, but it has since grown to include 60 workers.

And it’s constantly looking forward at emerging trends and technologies to keep the firm at the cutting edge.

“We’re looking at virtual reality and augmented reality in our projects,” Meacock said. “We have a whole group here that’s focused on that and we’re starting to bring that to every single one of our projects so that our clients can experience buildings the way we envision them and can actually walk through buildings and see what it feels like in their new building without ever having put a shovel in the ground.”

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

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