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Sunday, 14 September 2014 22:00

Submissions down for AIA Grand Rapids Honor Awards; architects focus on billable work

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Rockford Construction Office Complex, Building Honor Award. Rockford Construction Office Complex, Building Honor Award. COURTESY PHOTO

Fewer submissions for the Honors Awards presented by the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIAGR) probably translates into good news for the West Michigan industry as a whole.

The 17 submissions this year — three fewer than last year — are a sign that architecture firms in the Grand Rapids area are busy right now, said Brian Swem, an architect at Grand Rapids-based Lott3Metz Architecture and the chapter’s previous president who oversaw the 2014 awards.

“The busier people get, the less time they spend on non-billable things,” Swem told MiBiz. “In the middle of the recession, people are boosting marketing efforts and they are doing everything they can to get more work. If they get the Honor Award, it’s good marketing material. Now that everybody is swamped, the Honor Awards may not be as big of a priority.”

National data help tell part of the story of why West Michigan architects are so busy. The latest Architecture Billings Index (ABI) released in late-August hit its highest point since 2007. The July ABI reached 55.8, up considerably from a score of 53.5 in June, according to the report from the national AIA organization.

The fewer submissions in the local competition also meant fewer winners and honorable mentions, although Swem said that’s not to diminish the quality of the awards.

Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture LLC won in the building category for its work on Rockford Construction Co.’s new headquarters in the west side neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The former manufacturing facility takes up an entire city block around First Street and Seward Avenue. To create the open environment Rockford desired, Integrated’s design called for certain aspects of the building to be carefully removed to allow in natural light. Approximately 60 percent of the original building remains intact, said Randy Pease, a senior associate at Integrated.

“Having a healthy work environment was important to us — one that was collaborative and with lots of natural light,” Pease said.

This year’s Honor Awards were determined by a jury of AIA members from Austin, Texas. The juries typically are not familiar with the projects, allowing for impartiality and a focus on the overall architectural aspects.

“We do our best to encourage (the jury) to take into account our … microclimate for architecture,” Swem said. “The ways things happen in West Michigan for architecture aren’t necessarily the way things happen in Austin. For a house to work in West Michigan, it has to deal with weather conditions that Austin can’t even imagine, and vice versa. Juries really need to take that into account, and some juries do better than others.”

The Grand Rapids chapter held this year’s Honor Awards on Saturday, Sept. 13 at The Rapid’s Central Station. While the host location was more “corporate” than venues in past years, its selection was very purposeful, Swem said. The site was particularly meaningful given the launch last month of the Silver Line and the role the bus services operator plays in walkability, he said.

“It seemed like a very appropriate place,” Swem said.

Traditionally, the awards have been given in the fall to coincide with ArtPrize. However, with the advent of West Michigan Design Week in May, Swem said the AIA chapter hopes to move the awards to the spring.

Part of the goal in moving the awards is to be able to include students from the recently launched graduate program in architecture at Kendall College of Art and Design. That poses a challenge for the coming year as Design Week is presently scheduled for the week Kendall’s students will be on spring break, Swem said. The parties are attempting to come to a consensus.

Whether the Honor Awards wind up being moved or not, Swem told MiBiz that architects and designers can soon expect to see increased nominations and winners.

“Even though everybody is busy right now, we may not be to the point where everybody has projects they want to submit,” Swem said. “I feel like we should be (getting back there) now or very soon.”



  • Building Award: Rockford Construction Office Complex, Grand Rapids
    Design: Integrated Architecture
    Contractor: Rockford Construction

    The 71,000-square-foot former Miller Products manufacturing facility located in an industrial section on the west side of Grand Rapids now houses the headquarters for Rockford Construction and its development arm. Highlights of the $7.3 million project include an open, collaborative work environment, an open and recessed living room area and many sustainability features. Much of the original building remains intact. “This was one of the key projects to (act as) a catalyst for that area,” said Randy Pease, a senior associate at Integrated Architecture. “It’s really exciting for us and Rockford.”
    Jury Comments: “I think it’s a really terrific project. Love the light quality. I can imagine in the deep winter of Grand Rapids that the light quality is still fantastic.”
  • Interior Architecture: TowerPinkster Grand Rapids Office
    Design: TowerPinkster
    Contractor: Pioneer Construction

    TowerPinkster’s new Grand Rapids office at 4 East Fulton Street SE was selected as the winner in the interior architecture category. The 7,840-square-foot second-floor space is located in the former Junior Achievement Building, which is owned by Locus Development. The firm moved into the space last September.
    Jury Comments: “Well done. Attractive reuse of the existing building with an interesting approach to materiality and exposing of original materials.”

  • Firm Achievement: TowerPinkster, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo

    With more than 60 years in business and offices in both Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, TowerPinkster works across numerous sectors. The firm’s projects around downtown Grand Rapids include the renovation of the former Federal Building into Kendall College’s Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, the Kent County Courthouse and the Civic Theater.

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Mathison, Mathison Architects
    After 20 years as a principal at TowerPinkster in West Michigan, Tom Mathison decided to start a new firm with his son, Evan Mathison, upon his return to the state from the East Coast. The elder Mathison’s experience includes work in education, commercial and industrial design. His new firm with his son aims to try out some different types of projects such as high-end residential and includes an increased focus on commercial work, he said. “It is a humbling honor to be recognized by your peers for a lifetime of work over several decades,” Mathison said. “Although this might be considered a capstone type of recognition, I am working as much as ever and looking for new opportunities for the future.”

  • Young Architect: Michael Belisle, The Design Forum
    Having been secretly nominated for the last three years in a row by his boss Neale Bauman, Michael Belisle told MiBiz it was a “bit of a shock” knowing he had won. Belisle is the new president of the AIA Grand Rapids chapter and has worked closely with developers such as First Companies and Realvesco. His recent projects include Grand Rapids eatery Hall Street Bakery and Adams Christian School in Wyoming. “It is still pretty hard to believe that I could be considered in the caliber of so many other great young architects that won the award before me,” Belisle said. “I’ve always been one who thought that I am just here to do a job and do it the best that I can, so it is nice to know that my hard work is appreciated.”

  • David D. Smith Humanitarian Award: Mark F. Miller, architect, urban planner, and designer at Nederveld Inc.
    The annual award is intended for those who aren’t necessarily architects but take a leadership role in the community and promote area architecture. For over a decade, Mark Miller has headed Grand Rapids-based Nederveld Inc.’s urban design, planning policy and city building efforts. He serves on numerous boards such as Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s Alliance for Investment, the Fulton Street Farmers Market’s board of directors and the Kent County Land Bank’s advisory council. “(The award) gives me some level of validation for all the work that I have done over the last decade, and also gives me motivation to continue to do the kind of work that I feel will help the Grand Rapids region become an even greater place,” Miller told MiBiz.

Honorable Mentions

  • Building: Amway Hangar Addition and Renovation, Grand Rapids
    Architect: Integrated Architecture
    Contractor: Pioneer Construction
  • Residential: Allegan Lake House, Allegan
    Architect: Lucid Architecture
    Contractor: JPD Construction

  • Small Commercial Design: designBENCH, Grand Rapids
    Architect: Progressive AE
    Contractor: Advantage Millwork

Editor’s note: This article has been changed from a previous version to correctly identify the winner of the Young Architect of the Year Award as Michael Belisle, not Mark Belisle. 

Read 4456 times Last modified on Monday, 15 September 2014 09:25

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