A Personal Story of Business & Arts by John Kohlhas, AIA


Look for this article in an upcoming Chamber of Commerce eNews this fall…
In my firm, I’m the late shift. Of my partners at Environetics, a Center City architectural/interior design/engineering firm, I am the only one who lives in the city and walks to work. Since I’m not fighting traffic, I get in a little later and leave later…that is except for Wednesdays.On Wednesday nights I sing.I get home early, eat quickly, grab my music, drive across town to the Settlement Music School and join 150 people all dedicated to the same thing – making choral music at a level high enough to be recognized as one of the premier choruses in the US.Not long after joining the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia in 1998, I began to appreciate the parallels between making choral music and my professional world of making places. The two fields share many descriptors of order, such as form, rhythm, ornament, tone, harmony. We can use those tools for cool cerebral exploration or to paint scenes that evoke the deepest emotions. Ultimately it is the team work that fascinates me…the collaborative nature of what we do. At work I may be the “Principal in Charge,” but my role is about guidance: listening to a large team’s expressions and understandings of functional imperative, context, technology and aspiration; helping to find in those diverse voices a singular expression that is elegant, achievable and representative; and then working with builders to bring it to life.

At Mendelssohn Club, I am just one of the voices. In each piece I find inspiration from the composer, sometimes 100-years dead, but as often right there in front of us hearing a newly-commissioned piece for the first time. I am guided by Alan Harler, our conductor and Artistic Director, who at every rehearsal and every concert inspires high performance through depth of knowledge, artistic curiosity and good nature. I am buoyed by talented people all around me from all walks of life and of all ages. I am spurred to action by people willing to put in long hours behind the scenes. I am energized by audiences that are increasingly engaged in what we do because we are working at making what we do accessible.

So it’s Wednesday night.

Sometimes we mix it up… we get out of our sections, abandon the safety of our cliques, test our confidence, listen more carefully, tune to a new sound close at hand, hear a distant voice through the others, respond to each other, and grow as a team. This is what it feels like to reach across boundaries and strive for excellence. This is what we look for every day in my professional world.

At Environetics, we are finding new modes of integrated design, working with our partners across the industry and bridging our own disciplines of architecture, interior design and engineering. In this regard, Mendelssohn Club is one of our inspirations, so much so that we gave them an official home in our offices at One Penn Center where Janelle McCoy, Mendelssohn Club’s tireless Executive Director, has been connecting the organization in new ways across the Philadelphia arts and business scene. At Environetics, we couldn’t find a better way to support the arts, nor a better partner.

About John
John Kohlhas is a Principal at Environetics and is in his 14th season as a baritone with Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. For additional information on Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and Environetics please visit www.mcchorus.org and www.environetics.com.

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