The Building Blocks of Getting Back to Humanity

A Women’s History Month spotlight on KSS Partner, Merilee Meacock

Although the design industry has historically been characterized by the lack of women’s presence, the contributions of women in engineering, architecture and design have ignited a trail of innovation that resounds across the industry today. This reflection is particularly salient for KSS Partner, Merilee Meacock, as she recalls her experience both presenting and attending Women in Construction’s Stewardship event held at Princeton University on March 4th. Part of the ongoing annual programming for the organization, the Stewardship event offered networking amidst a smaller collection of presentations and panels ahead of the formal annual conference convening this fall in Washington, D.C. As an organization, Women in Construction serves as the primary source of education, professional development, and support for women in the build industry. While the mission to advance and support the careers of women in such a hyper masculine industry may seem daunting, WIC has continued to thrive, growing to represent and attract attendees such as developers, engineers, subcontractors, general contractors, trade associations, nonprofits, construction consulting companies, law firms and of course, architects like Merilee.

 Merilee has been at the forefront of KSS’s self-innovation by adopting a social impact mission, advocating for gender equity, and promoting interconnectivity among design disciplines and the arts and sciences. With a career spanning over 30 years, Merilee has not only seen the diversification of the industry but also helped shape the current standards and culture of the firm. Focusing on the impact of small gestures and designing with the intent to give dignity and respect to the environment and the population the project serves, Merilee stated that her approaches have had to be “strategic” when sourcing materials but that has yielded a greater outcome. Through development of the firm’s K – 12 market, Merilee has singlehandedly targeted a division of architecture rooted in uplifting vulnerable and often discounted populations in underserved communities across the North Atlantic region. “A school that we had just finished was the first built in 50 years [in the Bronx],” Merilee explained. “And to me, that was a huge turning point because the amount of impact we can make with building these neighborhood schools is an investment in the neighborhood. You’re giving people hope and it revitalizes the neighborhood. So, to be the spark to that makes change, that was very exciting to me. And the opportunity to positively influence someone’s life was really rewarding.”  

 Merilee’s work with KSS has continued to employ empathy as an integral ingredient in the design process. “I believe you can make a small move with a large impact…we’re not just building buildings; we’re building environments that really help people and support people,” she stated. “We can build community into our buildings and help people with addiction, anxiety, and loneliness…and one person can inspire many people on their own projects and then you can keep the chain going.’

 This chain has been an ongoing throughline between Merilee, the build industry and KSS. Merilee’s approach has helped foster the shift in design toward a biophilic model by speaking regularly on topics like social sustainability—which was rooted in this year’s conference’s theme for Women in Construction. By combining the strategies of biophilic design and placemaking, Merilee explained that a project can then really transform and settle into success due to the engagement of and feedback from the community it is hoping to serve. “Those are some of the strategies I’ve used that are very effective—not only for community centers and education but also cultural institutions in order to remain relevant and engaging broader audiences. You have to understand what the society is about and what they want, otherwise, the building is tone-deaf to what the needs are of that society.”

 Merilee speaks from a place of expertise underscored by immense passion for the work that she does, not only as an architect but as a beacon of community support. Merilee has worked on several projects spanning schools for people with Autism to methadone clinics. She has used her compassion as a trusted tool in her kit, stating that she uses the designs to uplift those utilizing the buildings. “You can send a message to the people who use the building that you’re worth it. You’re worth the investment.”

 Merilee’s impact will continue to shape the firm’s work for many years to come. When asked for advice, Merilee has imparted her empathetic wisdom but has also not missed an opportunity to draw inspiration from other women in the build industry and KSS as well, both encouraging other women to pick up the baton from this point while also acknowledging countless fellow experts around her. “I’m proud to be part of the continuum of women leadership,” Merilee expounds. “And I hope to continue to inspire the women that come after me.”