November 18, 2020

Mills + Schnoering Architects of Princeton Awarded Industry Honor

PRESTIGIOUS AWARD: The renovation, restoration, and expansion of the Civic Theatre in Allentown, Pa., is among the projects for which Mills + Schnoering Architects has been recognized as AIANJ Firm of the Year. (Photo by Mills + Schnoering Architects/Aislinn Weidele)

By Anne Levin

Coming up on its 10th anniversary, the Princeton firm Mills + Schnoering Architects (M+Sa) has been honored by the American Institute of Architects New Jersey (AIANJ) with an especially welcome designation: Firm of the Year.

“This is very exciting for us,” said Meredith Bzdak, a partner with Michael Mills and Michael Schnoering. “We have a terrific legacy behind us, but we’ve grown some more in the last 10 years and have taken on some projects that we think are wonderful. We’ve expanded more nationally and have been incredibly lucky, doing the kind of projects we love. The decade has sped by.”

Those projects are cultural, civic, and educational. While M+Sa is known for historic preservation, it is not limited to that. “We like to consider ourselves a full-service design firm,” said Bzdak, an architectural historian by training. “We do have a very strong specialization in historic preservation, and that is a design discipline. We see it all under the same umbrella.”

M+Sa’s civic portfolio includes accessibility and safety renovations at the Statue of Liberty, and documentation and assessment of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Washington Monument. Cultural projects range from the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum in Washington, D.C., to the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado. The firm is credited with restoration and design work on several educational buildings, including portions of Nassau Hall on the campus of Princeton University. “We really honor and love our ongoing relationships with organizations like Princeton University,” said Bzdak. “It’s been a long, long collaboration that we still feel really special about.”

The partners are also partial to their renovation of the University of Pennsylvania’s Hill College House dormitory in West Philadelphia, a landmark mid-century residence hall by Eero Saarinen. The firm restored the original design by the famous architect, while updating all of its interior spaces and performance systems.

“This was a phenomenal project, because the client was doing a wonderful thing for a modernist landmark,” said Bzdak. “It encompassed everything we like to do — being able to make it accessible, and to show it can still have the same sparkle as when it was built, but be really usable. People can now circulate properly, and all of the Saarinen design intentions are still intact.”

Current work includes the Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “It will be a performing arts center when it’s complete,” said Bzdak. “It also includes an 1880s building that is attached. It will be pretty transformative for the downtown when it’s complete.”

M+Sa is also currently working to rehabilitate and renovate the home and offices of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History.” A new museum at this National Historic Site will document and interpret the legacy of the historian and activist whose scholarship helped to inspire the intellectual fervor of the modern civil rights movement.

M+Sa currently employs 18 people at its Forrestal Center offices. All are still on the payroll despite the pandemic. “Everybody in this field is experiencing a downturn in the industry,” said Bzdak. “We have survived, though. Everybody is still working — mostly from home except for a few on a staggered schedule. Architecture is so collaborative, and it’s really a challenge to do it this way. But we’ve had relatively few glitches.”

The Firm of the Year award will be presented by AIANJ during its annual AIA New Jersey Installation and Awards dinner. “It’s especially gratifying and a great honor to receive an award from our professional organization and our architect peers,” said partner Michael Mills.