March 17, 2021Reading Time: 9 minutes
Applying her passion and energy to serve the causes she believes in – her community, her profession, her core values – Verity Frizzell has answered the call to resiliently rebuild damaged communities of New Jersey.
From early in her career, Frizzell has been passionate about slowing climate change and addressing its impact on the environment. As an officer of AIA Jersey Shore, Frizzell made green building and sustainability a priority for all continuing education, bringing Edward Mazria, Executive Director of Architecture 2030, and other sustainability expert speakers to local meetings.
As Committee on the Environment (COTE) chair for AIA-NJ, Frizzell proposed a green building conference to commemorate the one-third point on the journey to 2030. What had previously been a one-day green building workshop became a three-day event with prominent keynote speakers, a trade show, AIA-NJ Design Awards, and enough continuing education classes to fulfill the required 18 HSW credits in a single event. AIA-NJ recognized Verity’s efforts with a Certificate of Appreciation. East Coast Green became a model conference and earned AIA-NJ a Grassroots Excellence Award in Continuing Education: Outstanding Single Program in 2011.
Concurrently, Frizzell helped develop and facilitate a series of LEED Study Groups. At the time, the examination for becoming a LEED Accredited Professional was changing. AIA-NJ COTE Committee strove to have as many architects as possible earn LEED Accreditation. To achieve this goal, AIA-NJ ran a series of six study groups in various locations throughout the state.
Frizzell facilitated study groups in two of the locations for the first round, serving a total of 43 students. Several years later, when the exam changed again, she updated the content of the program and organized an additional series, running one of the four sessions and assisting another 15 students in preparing for the exam. These LEED accredited members have taken the knowledge gained at these events and used it in their own practices, at career days, and in talks at service club lunches, spreading the message of sustainability to the public.
Frizzell and her family sheltered in place at their home in Bay Head, N.J., when Superstorm Sandy hit. The next day, she was cleaning up debris and feeding her neighbors; soon she was rewriting the town ordinances and gaining expertise on FEMA and insurance regulations that would guide her clients through the difficult rebuilding process. In the following months, she shared her knowledge with architects and others to help residents all along the shore. She took advantage of her local connections to gain access to the restricted communities so that Mickey Jacob, FAIA, then AIA National President, could witness the devastation.
Borough-owned property alone incurred $1.9 billion in damage; Borough Hall and fire department were wiped out. Frizzell reached out to the mayor, with whom she had worked on the planning board, and began to rewrite the town ordinances. Following the storm, the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) for the region were revised, making it cost-prohibitive for many homeowners to raise their homes above the flood plain. Advocating for her friends, neighbors, and clients, she met with representatives from the Governor’s Office and the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton to appeal to FEMA to revise the maps; her successful efforts made a significant difference to communities across the state. The Borough of Bay Head honored Ms. Frizzell in 2013 for her leadership through the emergency.
Camp Osborn, in Brick Township, NJ, consisted of 105 tiny bungalows on three parcels of land that had developed organically from as early as 1896; three associations owned the land and leased it back to the homeowners. It was densely packed and did not conform to modern building codes or the current zoning ordinance; houses had been “grandfathered” over many generations. Because all but seven of the homes were completely destroyed in Superstorm Sandy, any rebuilding had to conform to current zoning regulations: On a parcel where 89 houses had been, 16 could be rebuilt.
AIA-NJ convened a Sustainable Design Assessment Team composed of architects, engineers, and planners from across the state. The interdisciplinary SDAT team organized a town hall meeting to bring together residents, representatives from FEMA, the police and fire departments, and the Mayor and council members. The SDAT broke into design teams and held a charrette to generate ideas. The individual design teams developed their ideas and presented several options to the Mayor and Council and the Building and Zoning Departments for their blessing. The design by Frizzell and her partner was ultimately selected and was presented to the residents at a public meeting which was covered by New Jersey News 12 for that evening’s broadcast.
Frizzell and her partner satisfied both the residents’ needs and the requirements of the local jurisdiction. By explaining the design, Frizzell gave the residents of Camp Osborn hope at a time of great despair and hopelessness; it gave them a vision of how their community could look and feel in the face of devastation. The collaboration between the design professionals, the residents, and the jurisdictional authorities demonstrates in a powerful way how community collaboration leads to resilience.
The concept of resilient design came about after Super Storm Sandy devastated New Jersey and New York, causing extensive damage and mass confusion as people struggled to rebuild. Many people had lost everything they had and did not know where to turn for advice on how to move forward or how to navigate the complicated maze of FEMA and flood insurance regulations. As keynote speaker at one of a series of eight Resilient Design Roundtable events at NJIT, Frizzell presented a number of design options to consider for rebuilding along the Jersey Shore to lessen damage from future natural disasters and aid in recovery when disaster does strike. Frizzell gave a critical presentation at the conference, specifically geared toward rebuilding in a resilient way. She explained the FEMA regulations and discussed different methods of construction which would withstand the forces of a storm, as well as complying with the regulations. She explained the various flood zones and their requirements in plain language and used real-world examples for each scenario, taking a theoretical concept and making it real. Frizzell repeated the presentation at AIA-NJ Design Day in 2013 and at a meeting of the fledgling AIA-NJ Women in Architecture Committee meeting in 2014, reaching more than 200 members. Since this time, Resiliency has become a topic that is frequently discussed by the profession in order to rebuild to better withstand hazards.
In the aftermath of Sandy, there were a number of heroes. One of those was Verity Frizzell, who gave her time and talents as an architect and designer to help people rebuild stronger and smarter. Thomas G. Dallessio, AICP/PP/FRSA, President, CEO + Publisher, Next City
When the new FIRM Advisory Flood Elevation maps for hard-hit communities were released, she appealed to lawmakers in Trenton, working with representatives from the Governor’s Office and the Department of Community Affairs and asking them to intervene with FEMA; her successful efforts allowed thousands of modest homeowners to rebuild. Frizzell was trained by Michael Lingerfelt, FAIA, LEED AP, to be a registered Disaster Service Worker, able to help local governments perform accurate facility-safety assessments in the aftermath of a disaster; she has also earned certification as a Safety Assessment Program educator to train others.
As a result of her work in Bay Head, Frizzell was recognized by the State of New Jersey Senate and General Assembly Resolution of Commendation for Service to the Community in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2016 for having “compiled outstanding records of service and achievement on behalf of the Bay Head community… and [she is] especially appreciated for [her} tireless work in the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.”
During her 2018 AIA NJ presidency, Verity reinvigorated the AIA NJ K-12 Committee as an arm of the new AIA NJ Equity in Architecture Committee. Ms. Frizzell has just completed a term on the AIA National Equity Task Force and participated in the survey of circumstances and development of the AIA National Guides to Equity. As such, she made it a priority for AIA NJ to begin utilizing these resources and bringing these lessons home for our members and communities to benefit from. Her promotion led to the development of AIA NJ’s first Kids Design Day and additional K-12 programming across the state. Most recently, Verity kicked off the latest K-12 Equity initiative in New Jersey, Architects’ Storytime, reading the first book, Julia Morgan Builds A Castle.
In 2018, Verity was elevated to Fellowship for applying her passion and energy to serve the causes she believes in – her community, her profession, her core values. She has answered the call to resiliently rebuild damaged towns and promote equity in architecture.
Frizzell has always been quick to raise a hand and volunteer for the AIA, first at her local level, overhauling their finances and planning continuing education, then stepping forward when the Repositioning Initiative was announced. As a Repositioning Ambassador, Frizzell helped identify and support innovative programs that will help make the AIA a diverse, relevant, and successful 21st-century organization. Continuing this work, she joined the Culture Collective, the group at the forefront of the Institute’s Repositioning efforts; she took the helm of the Communications Committee and compiled the final report. She was invited to join the Strategic Planning Task Force, where she promoted her passionate belief in sustainability, helping develop the content for the Sustainability section of the 2016-2020 AIA Strategic Plan. As a member of the Equity in Architecture Commission, she helped draft the diversity statement and recommendations adopted by the AIA Board and Strategic Council. Frizzell applied this varied experience at the national level to her local AIA chapter, in particular as chair of the AIA-NJ Governance Task Force, repositioning AIA-NJ to be a more nimble and relevant organization.
In 2019, AIA New Jersey hosted a special symposium for New Jersey Mayors at the Trenton Country Club, in Trenton, NJ. Mayors were invited to meet one-on-one with regionally associated AIA NJ member architects to explore ways that design thinking can solve a municipality’s biggest problems. The intention was to show mayors that Architects are trained to be creative problem solvers and are uniquely positioned to explore the big picture while attending to the details. Mayors shared real-life issues they may be having in areas such as Resilience, Building Inclusivity, Housing Shortages, Traffic and Infrastructure, Abandoned Buildings, or Sustainability.
Verity Frizzell, FAIA, chaired and moderated the symposium. The event was inspired by Civic I/O at SXSW, and a similar program offered at a recent Chicago Ideas Week. The AIA National Public Outreach Committee helped Verity put the agenda together in concept. The event met its goals of introducing mayors to architects and demonstrating how architects can help envision the future of their community, solve problems and work with them on issues that aren’t necessarily related to buildings but their community overall. A series of small team visioning exercises were interspersed with presentations by industry professionals and #ILookUp videos depicting success stories of municipal and regional renewal led by AIA Architects around the world. This event has great value to our communities and will resume after COVID restrictions are lifted.
Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment. Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through a dynamic network of more than 250 chapters and more than 95,000 member architects and design professionals, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation, and world. The organization’s local chapter, AIA New Jersey, has served as the voice of the architectural profession in the Garden State since 1900. Based in Trenton, AIA New Jersey has over 2,000 members across six sections. For more information, please visit http://www.aia-nj.org
By Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, AIA NJ Advocacy Consultant | Posted in AIA Jersey Shore, Women in Architecture | Tagged: #AIAFellowship, #Choosetochallenge, #COTE, #diversity, #EDI, #equity, #FemaleFellow, #Inclusion, #K12, #Resiliance, #sustainability, #VerityLFrizzellFAIA, #WIA, #WomenInArchitectureMonth, Fellowship | Comments (0)
Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.