Architect Returns to his Alma Mater and Leaves His Mark

February 8, 2019

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Architect Returns to his Alma Mater and Leaves His Mark

By Michael Bieri, AIA, PP





The palm of my hand shimmered gray with shiny graphite.   I held my head close to the paper, then slowly and methodically rolled my pencil along the T-square, then drew perpendicular along the edge of a clear, plastic triangle.  Corners.  You must make sure the corners you draw just overlap so they look square and perfect.  Over and over I drew the corners.  Practice.  Then I handed my drawing full of corners in to my teacher for a grade.  The first period of each of my days in High School started in this way, learning to draft.  Four years’ worth of pencil, paper, T-square and triangle.  My favorite class.

It all began in Room 157 in Westwood High School, Mr. Dietz’s Mechanical Drawing class.  It was here in that room where my path started, where those first lines of graphite met the smooth iridescence of vellum to draw orthographics, isometrics, obliques and perspectives.  The combination of drawing and construction interested me in a way like nothing else had before.  I decided at this point, inside the four walls of Room 157, that Architecture would be my profession.

Years passed.  I studied, moved away, learned the craft, developed a career, and created a family.  We moved back home.  My children, I thought, would now go to the same school as I did.  A moment of happiness at the thought of it brought a smile to my face.  Little did I know at that moment the role that I would play to shape their school experience…    

Suddenly and unexpectedly, a day came when I learned that my old School District was looking for a new Architect.  I pursued the position aggressively, creating the best and most detailed proposal and presentation I could.  After three interviews, my firm, FKA Architects, was awarded the commission over 22 of our competitors.  The news of the award was a moment of pure excitement coupled with earnest responsibility, as there were many challenges and much work that lie ahead.

Since that day, twelve years have passed as my firm has helped the District realize their plans, one project at a time for over 80 projects and counting.  For me, the work I do for this School District is a gift, the opportunity of my career.  Not only was I able to plan and design projects for my own Alma Mater, but both of my children attended the schools I was working on.  They were able to directly see my designs unfold before their eyes as they learned in the spaces I created, walked the halls I renovated, played on the fields I designed.  To me, there is no greater reward as an Architect than seeing your own children use and enjoy the product of your own craft and hard work.

On January 17, 2019, the Westwood Regional School District officially dedicated it’s newest project of our design:  a Field House and Maintenance Building for the Westwood Regional School District.  This project was designed in a way to solve two problems faced by the District:  a structure to house their maintenance equipment and a field house to serve the athletes and spectators of the recently constructed Athletic Stadium.   The solution created a dual use building that, on one side, addressed the maintenance needs, and the other addressed the field house needs.  The simplistic, yet sophisticated design was brought together by the varied talents of our team of Westwood High School Alumni:  Michael Bieri ‘89, Scott Murphy ‘08 and Louis Scheideler ‘10.

After all of these years, the work with the District still continues.  Currently under construction is a 50,000 s.f. addition to the Westwood Regional Middle School that was designed to create a True, Grades 6-8 Middle School, a project that has been 10 years in the making.  The renovation of old Room 157 has yet to become a project… but you never know what lies ahead in the future!

Michael Bieri, AIA, PP, is a Partner and Vice President of FKA Architects in Oakland, NJ.  He is also a proud graduate of the Westwood High School Class of 1989.

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