Heading into its second year, West Michigan Design Week hopes to build on the success the program had in its inaugural year. Architect Greg Metz, a principal at Lott3Metz Architecture and a co-founder of West Michigan Design Week, spoke with MiBiz about what design culture means to the region and how architecture has an impact.
What is it about West Michigan that brings all these different groups together around the concept of design?
There is a huge design community here, but people don’t realize it. You start with the ones we all know: Steelcase, Haworth, Herman Miller. The Big Three office furniture manufacturers are right here in West Michigan. We have Newell Rubbermaid, we have Stryker, we have Whirlpool. We have Wolverine. We have all these great, big design things in West Michigan, but very few people realize it. Or if they realize it, they don’t think about. So we wanted to bring that up (and ask) what does it all mean.
Why don’t people realize the role design plays in West Michigan?
We are so surrounded by design that we are kind of numb to it. People don’t realize that everything is designed and I think we are trying to put that more into context. That vacuum you’re using — someone in Grand Rapids probably designed that and thought about every aspect of how you use that vacuum. How you sit at work — someone from West Michigan thought about how you use that chair. The whole idea of Design Week is to help bring consciousness to that. We are also proud of West Michigan and we want West Michigan to be more proud of what we have.
How has the overall culture of design in the area changed in recent years?
For me, it’s a change that Rubbermaid Newell came here. Whirlpool stayed here and made a major investment in a research and design facility. Wolverine has stayed and expanded here. Michigan has a great manufacturing culture, but we also have a great design culture so it’s the best of both worlds. This is why I think companies are attracted here and why they stay here. The problem is getting that message out. The Right Place has done a good job.
How do you view your role as an architect as playing into the broader design discussion?
Everybody sees architecture and they gauge it all the time. It’s right in your face. The irony is, the toothbrush in your hand — you don’t realize that is designed in almost the same way that a building is designed. That’s part of Design Week. We are trying to make people realize that the car you drive, the toothbrush you use, the razor you use — all those items, the design process was the same as a building, maybe even more intensive because of the manufacturing part. With architecture, the manufacturing or construction part isn’t as complex (but) the margins are thin. To make a toothbrush work, you have to think about how to manufacture for less.
Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.