John Higgins: custom design engineering for homes and businesses

John Higgins and his wife moved to Charlotte to be closer to their boat.
John Higgins and his wife moved to Charlotte to be closer to their boat.

After graduating from UVM with a degree in Civil Engineering, John Higgins worked for Knight Consulting Engineers in Williston and then Engineering Ventures, a Burlington based start-up. Higgins was only the fourth person hired by that firm, but when it grew to 30 people he found himself managing work rather than actually doing what he was trained to do. Higgins had already distinguished himself in the field, having been named Young Engineer of the Year by the Vermont chapter of the American Society of Engineers, so he decided to start his own company.

Artisan Engineering began in the garage of Higgins’ Winooski home in 2003. For four years he worked alone, but as more and more clients sought him out he decided he needed assistance. In 2007 Higgins bought a sailboat, which he stored at Point Bay Marina. After tiring of driving back and forth on the weekends, he and his wife bought a home in Charlotte and moved the business there. He was able to hire one other employee but soon realized he needed to expand, so the company leased space with room for six employees on Ferry Road, a thirteen-minute walk through the woods from Higgins’ home. Next month, Artisan Engineering will be moving to a new location in Shelburne, behind Folino’s Pizza, with room for nine employees.

Artisan Engineering does work all across New England with occasional projects in locations as far afield as Idaho, California, Kansas, Arizona and Georgia. The majority of the company’s jobs are high-end residential, but of late they have been designing a number of urban infill mixed-use projects, which include parking garages below or at grade, first-floor commercial units and three to four floors of apartments. A more local project, of which Higgins is particularly proud, is the hangar for the Heritage Aviation building in South Burlington.

A self-described extrovert, Higgins enjoys the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people and thrives on the fact that his job involves a multitude of projects. “It’s a rare day that I work on one project all day,” he said. “In a typical month we probably work on 30 to 50 different designs with some commercial jobs taking six to eight months.”

In addition to the firm’s paid clients, Higgins enjoys providing pro bono assistance to local artists like Kate Pond and Andrea Wasserman. He designed the Millennium Sculpture which holds the time capsule at City Hall Park in Burlington. “I’m not an artist,” he said “but I can appreciate art and help out enough to ensure that things don’t fall down.”

Artisan Engineering’s portfolio runs the gamut from shiny, modern commercial structures to rustic timber-framed homes but Higgins sees a common ground in all their construction. “We take what the architect or owner wants as way to express the building and we make it stand up,” he said. “That’s the challenge. We have excelled in not saying ‘you can’t do it this way,’ but finding a way to do it.” The variety of the work is what Higgins loves most about his job. “We don’t do the same thing every day,” he said. “We’re one-off, custom design engineers.”

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