JMZ Architects is a firm realizing both long-term visions and local spatial needs. With a background in planning and architecture, they are a Women-owned business creating campuses and new structures alike. Practicing from a single office of 23 employees in Glens Falls, New York, they have focused exclusively on architecture and planning for higher education institutions, primarily public colleges, and universities, and state higher education systems.
Founded over four decades ago by now-retired architect Robert Joy, JMZ continues to look to the future. In recognition of their roots and culture, their work is grounded in the idea that “joy is at the heart of everything they do.” Now, they've hit the 100th campus client milestone, and have completed several LEED-certified projects. In the following interview, JMZ President Tenée R. Casaccio, AIA explores the future of design and building.
Why did you choose to study architecture?
When I was young, I was actually intrigued by archeology; I loved the idea of searching for answers to history’s mysteries. Later in high school, I wrote a paper on gothic cathedrals and became fascinated with how these tall, beautifully proportioned buildings were constructed. It was all over after that! I feel so lucky to now have a career as an architect that fulfills my earliest interests in history, discovery, structures, and beauty.
Can you tell us about JMZ and how the firm started?
JMZ Architects and Planners, P.C. is a 24-person, fully integrated planning and design firm that focuses exclusively on higher education. We have helped more than 100 colleges and universities achieve their goals through thoughtful campus planning, strategic space utilization, and creative facilities design. We are also a nationally certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise.
The firm was founded in 1977 by Architect Robert Joy as a sole proprietorship and has grown to become the fifth-largest firm in the NY Capital Region (according to revenue). Bob created a family-friendly environment and a fun-loving culture long before it was the thing to do.
You have a range of experience addressing issues facing higher education through planning and design. Can you talk about how your work has evolved over time?
Our campus planning work used to be more conceptual, but with an increased focus on accountability and data-informed decision making in higher education, most institutions expect substantial analysis of their current space utilization and justification of their future space needs. We have developed in-house skills to do that; it really resonates with our clients when we can say that licensed architects are analyzing their space and translating their true needs into capital projects.
A high percentage of the institutions we work with on planning assignments hire us to implement the resulting projects. Our practice has evolved to include more collaboration with other architects on the design of those projects. This has allowed us to grow in interesting ways. We always enjoy sharing our higher education expertise and seeing how other firms approach design. Our growing network of partners continues to bring us new clients and new opportunities. Geographically, we have now practiced in 13 states.
What are some recent projects you’ve been working on?
In the height of the pandemic, we put the finishing touches on a system-wide study of STEM academic space utilization, capacity, and future needs at 15 universities in the University of North Carolina System. This is macro-level planning at its best. We’d like to see other university systems think strategically about what they need and where they need it like the UNC System did.
We are collaborating with another architectural firm in South Carolina on the design of a large Arts and Health Sciences Building at Greenville Technical College. Closer to home, we are designing the renovations to the Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo. We just started a relationship with West Point, which will further diversify our portfolio within the higher education market.
And we recently learned that we were selected to prepare an athletics master plan for Dartmouth!
With changes to climate, technology, and construction, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to change the profession?
With technology, we’ve all figured out that we can be productive while working remotely and that it doesn’t really matter where your office is located. I think something would be lost if we did that exclusively, but remaining open to the possibility of hybrid and flexible work schedules could keep more women in our profession and allow us to increase the diversity of our staff. That - in itself - could change our profession.
At times, it seems overwhelming to think about everything that goes into design and construction these days - sustainability, universal accessibility, energy and building codes, new technology, safety and security - and then I remember: it’s just good design. Talented architects have been balancing program, budget, site, codes, cost, and constructability for centuries. The way we do that evolves, but the basic tenets of good design are timeless.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
At our essence, architects and designers are communicators. The tools we use to communicate have never been more powerful and accessible than they are now, but it is incumbent on us to choose the right tool for the task. There are surely times when we have to pull out all the stops and be technologically “zippy” in how we communicate our ideas. However, picking up the phone and having a conversation with a client - one where we truly listen - can form a relationship that lasts well beyond the first project.