Lewis Fisher and Jim Heck reflect on their partnership as FisherHeck Architects celebrates 25 years in business.
In the years since FisherHeck was established, Lewis and Jim have been dedicated to providing their team of architects and designers with
an open environment where ideas are shared, differing points of view are valued, and each team member’s area of specialization is
respected. With a portfolio that includes more than 90 churches; over 115 historic preservation projects; and a variety of new civic, institutional,
and residential projects, FisherHeck offers their staff diverse opportunities to apply their experience and expertise. Clients, too, benefit from the
innovation and depth of knowledge that each FisherHeck team member brings to a project.
How do you ensure that a client’s vision is fulfilled?
LF: We listen carefully to what the client is saying and learn what they want to achieve from the project.
JH: Constant review and open communication are critical to the success of the project. Egos don’t get in the way--we don’t put our wants in front of the client’s.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the past 25 years?
LF: Landing jobs big enough to allow us to showcase our talents. Making business connections, developing relationships, and networking were challenging in the early days of the firm. We had to start building our reputation on small projects and wait to be accepted at the next level, moving up step-by-step. St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Alamo Heights was the first project that was relatively large compared to other churches we had done.
JH: That was also our first project for the Catholic Archdiocese and it eventually led to our being named associate architecture firm for the renovation of San Fernando Cathedral. By that time we had become known for our historic preservation and restoration work.
How did you gain experience in historic preservation and restoration?
LF: Trinity Lutheran Church in Victoria needed a master plan for several projects, which would span a 15-year time period. These included a new youth and music building, renovation of the old church, and a multi-purpose fellowship hall and gym. Trinity Lutheran is the second oldest Lutheran congregation in the state of Texas and is important to the Lutheran heritage. We were able to gain and build upon our historical preservation experience while also bringing significant new design to this urban complex.
The scope of your work has been very diverse, though. What are some of the other large projects you’ve done in addition to churches?
JH: Our work at San Fernando led to our being hired for restoration work at the Bexar County Courthouse. San Fernando validated us and pushed us to the next level. Our understanding of San Antonio and its heritage was key to our being selected as associate architect for San Fernando. People began to see that our firm is adept at applying knowledge gained from various types of projects to new projects.
LF: The City of San Antonio Animal Care Services Facility we designed is a 14-building complex that shows the diversity of FisherHeck. We were chosen for this because we had a good team of experts and consultants that could handle the complete issue. We also met the city’s minority business requirements.
To what do you attribute the success and longevity of FisherHeck?
LF: Jim and I agree to disagree. We respect each other. A partnership relationship keeps you in line, it’s give and take. We respect our employees, too. The firm attracts employees who are interested in long-term relationships and we have been able to provide growth opportunities for them.
JH: I think we’re honest and fair with employees and clients alike. We communicate with them, and we’re accountable to them.
What do you draw on for inspiration?
LF: I have always been inspired by people living together in cities and communities. When I travel, I explore cities for inspiration. My favorites are Florence, Italy and New York.
JH: I have always liked modern architecture, even as a child. I grew up in Queens and disliked Victorian buildings,
because I associated them with ghosts and creepy dentists in Brooklyn.
In high school, I often went to the library on my lunch break and read books on modern architecture. Richard Neutra is a modern architect who
truly inspired me. From the time I was about 7 years old, I knew I wanted to be an architect. It all began with a dollhouse that fascinated
me--because it was a building. I would look at the different spaces inside it and think about the relationship to volume, etc.
I love the simplicity and uncluttered design of contemporary architecture. In my teens, I lived in Troy, New York, and saw a lot of manufacturing
and technology influences. I do have an appreciation for older buildings. My passion is to integrate new technology and design into restorations
such as what we did with the Bexar County Courthouse. I strive for simple elegance.
What do you offer to clients that other firms don’t?
LF: Our firm is small enough that Jim and I interact with clients throughout the project and we have a hands-on approach that may be lost in larger firms. With a staff of 20, we have people with in-depth experience, but we also offer personal attention.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your work?
JH: I love to hear praise for our firm’s work. I am happy when we exceed expectations of the people using the spaces we design and when our designs integrate with the aspirations of the people who work and live in these buildings.
LH: Touching the souls of people through architecture is what makes me feel satisfied. And being able to incorporate a bit of the unexpected--that element of surprise that leaves one with a wonderful feeling.
Has FisherHeck Architects become what you had envisioned for it 25 years ago?
LF: I trusted that I could do something worthwhile but I was not sure where it would lead.
JH: I am pleased with where FisherHeck is now. Our growth was a result of doing good work, keeping our approach fresh, and building things that matter to other people.
Is there an architectural project you’d like to do that you haven’t done?
JH: A museum of any kind.
LF: I’d like to do some really wonderful houses on the north stretch of the San Antonio River in the River Reach area. It would be wonderful to create a contained community where you could walk to neighborhood restaurants, shops, a deli, and other types of businesses.
What is your favorite memento?
LF: The Founders Medal I received at the dedication of San Fernando Cathedral.
JH: A set of German-made compasses my parents gave me.
What is your favorite piece of art?
JH: An Ansel Adams photo titled “Horizontal Aspens.” I gave this to my wife, Tricia, when our second son, Stevie, was born.
LF: Two 18th century maps that I treasure. One is of London and the other is of Florence.