A Dream Come True
Having grown exponentially over the last decade, the city of Newark continues to burgeon as a mecca of architectural rebirth, thanks in part to creatives like College of Architecture and Design (CoAD) alum Kyle Rendall ’07.
As an associate and senior project architect at KSS Architects, a full-service architecture, planning and interior design firm in Princeton, Rendall currently oversees construction of a building in the Teachers Village. The mixed-use community designed by world-renowned firm Richard Meier & Partners Architects and KSS is in the heart of Newark’s Four Corners historic district.
“It’s pretty unique,” says Rendall about the multifamily residential building. It will offer retail space on the ground floor and a precast concrete floor structure system on bearing panels from which architectural wall panels will hang. “It’s a combination of different structural systems that you don’t always see together. It’s been a very tricky animal to try to pin down.”
While excited about the building—it will serve as affordable housing for teachers at three nearby charter schools—Rendall is the first to admit that after five years of living and matriculating at NJIT, Newark was the last place he thought he’d establish his career.
“After graduation, I said to myself, ‘I’ve had my fill of Newark,’” he says. “I thought I’d visit here and there; have rodizio in Ironbound with friends on the weekends. That’s it.”
But the second he started working at KSS, he began to take on projects in Newark as the economy turned around and the charter schools started to ramp up their efforts in the city. “I’ve been going to Newark probably three times a week for the last eight years. I’m there more now than when I was in school,” he chuckles.
A typical workday is spent on construction sites, liaising with contractors to ensure projects are completed in conformance with designs. “I’m the gateway between the contractors and designers,” he says. “I like being the point person to decode the specifications for a project and help the contractors along the way. It takes a little finessing in the field to make things as ideal as possible. It’s all about improving the process.”
In January, the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA NJ) recognized Rendall’s efforts by honoring him with the 2015 Young Architect of the Year Award. It’s a distinction his collaborators also feel he warrants.
“Kyle’s wonderful combination of expertise and community service has made him an integral part of KSS’s team,” says Merilee Meacock, KSS Partner. “Kyle’s architectural knowledge of construction techniques for complex, sophisticated building types has been invaluable, and his dedicated community service and drive to complete pro bono work strongly reflects KSS’s mission of meaningful change.”
Born and raised in Lawrenceville, Rendall would head north to spend summers with his grandparents in Maine. There, his curiosity in architecture and design was fostered when he landed an internship at a firm organizing books, creating blueprints and tinkering with models at the tender age of nine. “It was really basic stuff,” he recalls, “but it got me further interested in the field.”
Fueled by youthful ambition and a ferocious determination to excel, Rendall blazed his own trail to entry-level success. He was already meeting with clients and running projects through schematic design for a high-end residential firm in Hopewell before he was old enough to open a bank account.
Rendall’s tenacity earned him admission to NJIT, where he was one of the founding brothers of the university’s Domitian chapter of Alpha Rho Chi, the National Professional Fraternity for Architecture and the Allied Arts.
“NJIT’s architecture program has the perfect mix of theoretical and technical instruction,” he says. “It was inspirational to go there and be taught by leaders who are in the field teaching, practicing and making waves.” In 2007, he graduated cum laude with a B.Arch.
With aspirations of practicing architecture finally realized—he was the first one in his circle of friends to become a licensed architect— Rendall suddenly found himself in the middle of an existential crisis.
“I’ve worked continuously at an architectural firm since my last year of middle school. Fulfilling my dream of becoming an architect was my number one goal. And I kept pushing and pushing and pushing until I achieved it. And once I did…” his voice trails off. “I kind of felt empty.”
This forthright acknowledgment defies the sort of widespread enthusiasm one might expect from a 32-year-old award-winning architect in the prime of his career. “I hit this dark point,” he continues. “I was like, ‘Crap. Do I just do this constantly now for X amount of years and then retire and die? What’s next? What am I really doing?’”
He tempered those lukewarm feelings with volunteer work as the deputy chief for the Princeton Fire Department. Rendall runs fire scenes and performs plan reviews for projects that are proposed to Princeton’s building department. And as a practicing architect, he happens to be uniquely qualified for the gig.
“I understand what the building designers and the architects need and I also understand, as the fire chief, what I need to account for and when I need to change another architect’s design so that it’s safer and easier for us to fight a fire in that building,” explains Rendall, whose father was also a firefighter. “It’s a fun spot to fill.”
Today, Rendall boasts a renewed sense of purpose and always takes a civic-minded approach to the spaces he creates. The client-focused perspective enables him to tackle projects with the end user in mind.
“It wasn’t until I got into architecture that I started to understand that the things I do actually have a tangible effect on the daily lives of other people,” he says. “And I think a lot of people are finally realizing that they can’t keep taking from the environment and the community without putting something else back out there to make it more fulfilling for others.”
With an accolade to his credit, the workforce housing project in Teachers Village scheduled for completion this summer and a wedding to plan—Rendall and his fiancé, Jennifer, will tie the knot in Maine in July—2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for the go-getter.
Rendall says he’s not sure where he sees himself in the next five years or so.
Might he still be in Newark, administering yet another economic development project?
“That’s probably the absolute truth,” he laughs.
Although his future whereabouts is up in the air, one thing’s for certain: Rendall will continue to push himself to work on larger, more complex projects. “I don’t want to be shoehorned into a market or building typology,” he affirms. “I want to continue to grow as an individual.”
Receiving the AIA NJ Young Architect of the Year Award, he says, “helps cement the fact that not only did I meet my life’s dream of becoming an architect, but I’ve made a name for myself—and it doesn’t all just come from the work I’ve done. It also extends from the relationships I’ve established with contractors, owners and citizens in the community. Being of service is at the root of what it means to be a good architect. It’s a great thing; a truly holistic experience.”