New York Senior Vice President Jan Kalas, a key member of the firm’s Renewal practice, died on Oct. 31 as a result of a pedestrian accident. He was 70 years old. Known for his problem-solving ability and eye for detail, Jan had been practicing architecture for more than 40 years, including nearly 20 years at Thornton Tomasetti.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Jan earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Miami. He was a registered architect in New York, Florida and Pennsylvania, and held National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) certification. An advocate of sustainable design, he earned a graduate certificate from the energy engineering and policy program at the Polytechnic Institute of New York in Brooklyn.

Jan had been a design architect before joining Thornton Tomasetti in 1997. He quickly established a reputation as a skilled diagnostician, specializing in condition assessments, remediation and litigation support for a wide range of building types. His project credits include the Chrysler Building, Harry Winston store and the New York State Supreme Court Building in New York City, Vi at Aventura, Florida, and several buildings in the Amityville, New York, school district.

Jan Kalas conducting a site inspection in Flemington, New Jersey.

Jan was known among his colleagues as the go-to guy for building envelope work—and questions—and was a favorite consultant of construction litigation attorneys. In addition to coworkers and clients, Jan shared his passion for architecture with the next generation of professionals. He served as a visiting professor at Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture for close to 25 years.

The Northport, New York, resident was a devoted father to four and friend to many. He enjoyed spending time sailing on the Long Island Sound and collecting vintage model trains. Around the office, Jan was known for his tremendous energy, quick wit and sense of humor. He also held the title of having the messiest desk, which he would argue was indeed the sign of a brilliant mind.

Jan was a master of the craft of architecture.

Some of Jan’s colleagues, clients and friends recently shared their memories of a skilled and talented professional and mentor.

Gary Mancini, managing principal: Jan joined the firm in the late 1990s as a senior level architect. He had a considerable amount of experience in architectural design with a focus on building envelopes. Jan was a great asset to our Renewal and Forensics practices. Because of his background in design and construction, he understood how buildings are constructed and how they fail. It was this perfect balance of expertise that made him so good at litigation support. Attorneys liked him for that reason and his ability to distill things down to the basics, often explaining in a humorous way. Where Jan sometimes fell short was in his ability to deliver on time. He enjoyed being very hands-on and was always involved in every aspect of a project. Of course, the same attorneys who would call grumbling that the report was late, would hire Jan for the next job. They would put up with the headache, because he was the perfect expert. He really understood his craft.

Earlier in my career, we worked on some NYC School Construction Authority projects together, and I learned a lot about architecture from him. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of experience in building envelope work. I remember sitting with Jan and going over the drawings. He would take the time to explain to me the things that I didn’t understand. He was always very patient and giving of his time. If you had a question, he was ready to help. Even if he was walking by and heard someone talking about an issue, he would come over and join the conversation. Jan was a great resource, and was one of those people who truly enjoyed coming to work every day.

Jan put boundless energy into everything he did. We both lived on Long Island and took the Long Island Rail Road out of Penn Station. Sometimes I would run into Jan in the elevator at the end of the day and we would walk to the station together. He walked so quickly, that it was more like a race. He’d just make his train, while I would end up 10 minutes early for mine. He was always moving fast get more things done. We will miss him.

Chris Pinto and Jan Kalas at a litigation support workshop in Thornton Tomasetti’s Madison Avenue office, June 2013. Photo by Bess Adler.

Richard Tomasetti, founding principal: Jan was a dedicated professional and valued member of the Thornton Tomasetti family. He had a deep understanding of architecture and its interface with engineering and building functionality. Jan was always there to share his expertise and to help others and always with a smile. This is a tragic, sudden loss of a wonderful person and a uniquely competent professional. We will miss him very much, but have many pleasant memories that will keep his spirit alive and with us.

Bob Nacheman, principal: Jan was a terrific person and forensic architect. He had boundless enthusiasm for the profession, an encyclopedic knowledge of building design and construction and a consistent sense of optimism and joy for life. When it came to resolving a forensic issue, he was always willing to assist in any way he could. He was a wealth of information, gained through years of hard work and experience, who I and many others turned to. He’s the one I called when I needed expert architectural advice. I will miss him.

Damon Baumann, senior associate: Jan was always 25 feet in front of everyone. For those lucky enough to keep up with him, you knew that he was a rare person in mind and spirit. He had a big personality and an even bigger smile. He was approachable and intimidating at the same time. He was extremely knowledgeable. Jan forgot more about architecture that most of us would ever know. He also had the uncanny ability to take the most complex of situations and break it down into simple language that anyone could understand. I learned so much working with him and am grateful for the experience. Not only was he my mentor, but something of a father figure and a good friend. The world has truly lost a unique soul who will truly be missed more than words can convey.

Jan was known for his sense of humor. At the Sustainable Roofing & Waterproofing Alliance conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last month, he had a few laughs in the photo booth with Senior Associate Melissa Wong and Damon Baumann.

Sorin Moisi, senior vice president: Jan was a colleague as well as a friend. He was the quintessential baby boomer: knowledgeable, conscious, hard worker, open minded, friendly and witty. In one word, he was a mensch. Over the years, Jan and I worked together on many projects. At the beginning of each project, we would discuss the appropriate strategy for addressing the scope of work. His theoretical and practical knowledge of our trade gained him the respect of his peers and clients. He will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him.

Narinder Chhabra, principal: I met Jan when he was a vice president at The Eggers Group. He was a design architect then, and we did several projects together, like Thayer Hall and Rosary Hall at United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as well as the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory building at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He was very sharp, energetic and great to work with. In the late 1990s, Eggers was acquired by another firm. I happened to run into Jan, who told me he was looking for a new opportunity. I spoke to Charlie Thornton about him and we set up a lunch meeting with Jan. Jan and Charlie talked about work, their boats and sailing. They seemed to have a lot in common. After a few more meetings, Jan was hired. Although we didn’t work together much at Thornton Tomasetti, we were compassionate colleagues, sharing clients and project leads. He truly was a wonderful gentleman.

Earlier in his career, Jan was a design architect with The Eggars Group and did a number of projects at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, with Thornton Tomasetti as the structural engineer.

Peter Rottas, vice president, retired: Jan and I worked together for six years at Thornton Tomasetti doing site inspections and providing expert witness services. We also spent several years down at the World Trade Center site after the attacks of 9/11. Jan had a keen understanding of how things worked and how they stayed together. He also had a quick sense of humor that was based on street smarts. Jan and I spoke the same language. After I retired from Thornton Tomasetti in 2004, we stayed in contact and saw each other frequently. Jan was into model trains and I called him “Trainman.” He called me “Flyboy” because of my interest in aviation. He was a good friend and I will miss him very much.

Jan was an experienced sailor.

Massimiliano Voto, senior associate: Jan was a great mentor and friend. We spoke on a daily basis, even on weekends, about work and architecture. I would start the conversation in Italian, and he would respond with the few words of Italian he knew. It was always the same words, which made us laugh. It was a pleasant way to start the discussion. I admired Jan for the kind of man he was and for his extensive knowledge of architecture. I will miss him very much.

Sunil Sitaram, associate principal: I started working at Thornton Tomasetti in 1999, right out of college. On my first day, I showed up at the office very early and was told to wait for my manager, who wasn’t in yet. I was sitting in the reception area when this guy rushed in. He came right up to me, vigorously shook my hand and said, ‘Hi I’m Jan Kalas.’ Being my first day, I was very nervous and felt intimidated by him. But as I got to know Jan, he was the complete opposite of what I initially thought. Jan was someone you could talk to easily. He became my mentor throughout my career. If I had any questions, he was my go-to person and he always had an answer. Jan approached his work in a systematic way. He taught me how to move through an investigation and put the information you gather onto the drawings and then carry that through the construction phase. He was very organized, but you couldn’t tell that from all the boxes of documents he had stacked up in his office. But he knew what was in every one of those boxes.

We haven’t worked together on projects in a long time, but some of the large clients that I have today are the result of Jan’s hard work. He had a tremendous influence on my professional career. I came to Thornton Tomasetti wanting to do structural design, but after working with Jan, I ended up doing renewal work and taking a more architectural approach to projects, which I have never regretted. We are going to miss Jan’s personality, energy and vast knowledge tremendously. His are big shoes to fill.

Christopher Mestecky, partner, Guercio & Guercio LLP: I first met Jan about 10 years ago. Our law firm represents about 50 school districts in education law, including construction-related litigation. We were handling a large architectural defect case and needed an expert witness. A colleague recommended Jan, who was very well known in the industry. This was a significant case for our firm and the school district, and Jan was more like a partner than a consultant. He was such a smart guy and always available to talk things through as the case was progressing to trial. Jan’s forensic exam determined the cause of the problem and that the design was inadequate. He came up with a solution the school district used after the case was ultimately settled and it corrected the problem. I have dealt with many experts on different cases, but Jan always had a practical approach. Everything he did was well supported and well researched. He made that part of the case, which is usually the most difficult, the easiest part for us, and I recommended him to many other attorneys.

Our 10-year working relationship also grew into a friendship. Jan was Czech and my father came from the Czech Republic. We had a lot of conversations about Czech culture and he met my entire family. A few years ago, my best friend suddenly passed away at a young age. Each year, we would remember him with an event on the New York Mets’ opening day. Jan made it a point to come every single year because he knew that was difficult for me and my family. He truly was a great guy and I will miss him greatly.

Jan and Christopher Mestecky at Thornton Tomasetti’s 2015 client party in New York City. Photo by Bess Adler.

Matt Olender, associate principal: Jan had been helping us with Florida projects consistently since 2007. At first it was because we didn’t have any architects in South Florida, but as we added architects to our team, we kept involving him in projects because he was such an incredible technical resource. He had this knowledge base that nobody else seemed to have. Jan was the best when it came to getting answers to architectural problems, especially when it involved building envelope issues. When he was here and focused on things, there was nobody better at engaging the clients and dealing with technical challenges. He loved the architecture and engineering side of the business. He was always sketching out the details for a project and even at that point in his career, he was still going on swing stages with us and getting his hands dirty. My staff and I learned an incredible amount from him. Jan had a little bit of the nutty professor in him. When I first started in Florida, Jan used to show up about once a month. He would always be dressed and ready for the field and to handle the South Florida heat by wearing these fishing shirts with mesh vents. One day, Jan showed up and we were all wearing fishing shirts. It took him about half the day to figure it out. Jan had the best sense of humor and got a kick out of it. Even when we had to deal with difficult clients or projects, Jan could always bring humor to the situation. He was more than just a colleague, and he is going to be greatly missed.

— Cynthia Hoffman, Editor

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