Kiprian “Kip” Fedetz remembers the drafting class he took in 10th grade and enjoying the structured form of drawing and thinking in a three-dimensional way.
“From an early age, I was intrigued by modern buildings, and I decided then and there that I wanted to be an architect,” said Fedetz, president of Fedetz & Martin Associates, an Allentown-based architectural firm with corporate, commercial, governmental, health care and educational clients throughout Pennsylvania.
Founded in Reading in 1956 by Robert Martin, the practice in its early years included public works projects and private facilities, as well as school projects throughout Berks County.
Martin ran the business for more than 30 years until 1990, when he met Fedetz. They joined forces after collaborating on projects and in 1992 formed a partnership.
Martin retired in 2002, and Fedetz became the sole owner. The firm’s Reading office recently closed, consolidating its operations in Allentown.
“Bob was an architect before I was born, a longtime, successful architect in Berks County,” said Fedetz, who graduated from Kent State University in 1982. “Bob did nothing but marketing and allowed me to run the firm. That was his preference, and I learned so much from him.
Martin died in 2005. “He [Martin] was the consummate businessman in Reading — well groomed, an impeccable dresser, old school,” Fedetz said. “He taught me that the marketing side of architecture is just as vital as producing creative, imaginative designs.”
A touch of old school in himself, too, Fedetz started as a draftsman after college, “doing the boss’ designs,” and opened his first architectural practice after converting his garage in Orefield in 1990 into a design studio. He worked 80 hours a week to find clients and build the business.
“The first time I did a design myself was for an accounting firm on Hamilton Boulevard, across from Cedar Crest College [in Allentown],” he recalled. “It’s a credit union now, but I still smile whenever I drive by there. You always remember the projects that made a big impact on your career.”
Fedetz credits a vigorous work ethic and strong client relationships with surviving the economic downtown that started in 2008.
“Fedetz & Martin had grown to about 18 employees by 2002, but the recession hit us hard like others, and it was tough to get projects” Fedetz said.
“By the time 2010 rolled around, we were about half that size. But we rebounded, largely because of the good contacts we had made over the years,” he added. “We’re trying to grow some more, and I have some empty seats to fill as we head into our firm’s 25th anniversary in 2017.”
The firm does $1 million to $2 million in business annually, Fedetz said.
“When our firm meets with prospective clients, we seek to understand their business and the needs of their facility, whether it be a new building, renovating an existing facility or rehabilitation to repurpose another building,” he said.
“… In the beginning, we are listeners. Then we place that information into a design of spaces and forms.”
Setting realistic time frames and deadlines is key, Fedetz said, adding, “We organize the tasks to meet the schedules. We point out realistic objectives.”
One of Fedetz’s most steadfast clients is PPL Corp., one of the largest utility companies in the nation.
“Kip has worked with us for more than 20 years,” said Bob Hoerner, who retired last year as director of PPL’s corporate facilities. “His first job was at our System Facilities Center in Hazleton.”
The relationship continued with a full renovation and redesign of the utility’s Bethlehem Service Center, which Hoerner said was done successfully while allowing employees and PPL vehicles to continue their work unimpeded.
Fedetz said one of his most satisfying projects was the 2002 redesign of the lobby in the Tower Building, PPL’s 24-story corporate home in downtown Allentown.
“By far, the lobby was the biggest project,” Hoerner said, noting how the plan would take it from a drab 1950s-era appearance to a fresh interpretation of its original art deco design when the building opened in 1928.
“The project had to be broken down into multiple phases to keep the facilities operating and working while following PPL’s rigorous attention to safety,” Hoerner said.
“When the lobby was torn apart, we had to provide temporary entrances and electric systems to keep everything up and running.”
Other Fedetz & Martin clients include public entities such as Lehigh County and the Easton Housing Authority. Among its new private projects is an ambulatory surgical center in Berks County.
Fedetz, a firm believer in the value of relationships, said his advice to a young, newly licensed architect is to be sensitive and respectful to client needs.
“Finding clients is still the main focus of what I do,” he said. “But at the same time, you always have to remember why you chose architecture.
“For me, it’s always been about a blank piece of paper becoming a three-dimensional building that you can walk through. When people come to me and thank me for a design, that’s the best accolade I can get.”