Paul Dickinson

April 15, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It was something he always wanted to do, and growing up in a town where there wasn’t even an architect, it is ironic that Paul Dickinson has made it to where he is today.

“I grew up with a love for construction and architecture and buildings in general,” said Dickinson, the president of Integrated Architecture. “It was just something I always knew I wanted to do.”

After completing his first two years of school at Alpena Community College, a school his firm will soon be redesigning, the architect moved on to the University of Michigan where he obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. During his time at the University of Michigan, Dickinson was on staff to formulate plans for a new hospital at the medical campus. Moving to a large architecture firm in Detroit, he switched sides and worked on the architecture side of the plans for the hospital, until it was completed.

For a while Dickinson was commuting back and forth from Ann Arbor to Detroit. “It got long after a while and we were ready to start a family, so we decided to make the move to Grand Rapids,” said Dickinson. “We knew it would be a great place for a family and we wanted to get closer to the water.”

After arriving in Grand Rapids Dickinson worked for Design+ as project manager for the Gantos Corp. headquarters. As time passed and his experience grew, Dickinson was offered the position of director of architecture for Gantos and designed all of the company’s new stores as it went public.

Following his own ideas and own views, Dickinson opened Integrated Architecture in 1988. If you have driven west on I-96 past a building on a hill, and worried about the large concrete slabs tumbling down the hill, you have passed Integrated Architecture’s new facility in Grand Rapids.

Dickinson assures that the 16-ton slabs, which are actually part of a sculpture, are not going to fall.

When the firm began in the late ’80s, it was small but had its eyes on larger projects. Unfortunately, those projects often were out of state, and it was getting more and more difficult to hire and retain employees when the firm was sending them to projects across the country.

“We would recruit all of these highly educated and talented people for our staff from Chicago, San Francisco, and get them used to living here and creating a home here, and then we would put them on a plane and ship them off to someplace new to work,” Dickinson said. “After a while we decided maybe we needed to focus on our region here, and so we built our new facility here.”

That structure was built to showcase what the firm can do — and does just that by incorporating various looks and techniques both on the exterior and interior. While Integrated still does half of its work out of state, it also maintains strong ties to its collegiate, institutional, retail and athletic work in West Michigan.

Serving as more than just a workplace, Integrated Architecture’s building holds the AIA headquarters, as well as the firm’s Learning Center. “It really is a fault of our profession that more people don’t know what architecture is all about and what we do. It is much more than just drawing pictures,” said Dickinson.

The Integrated Architecture Learning Center focuses on a mission to educate the public about architecture and what it is as a profession. “There are many entrepreneurs that go from their garage to a corporate headquarters, and they have never been involved in the building process. It can be difficult when you hire an architect when you don’t know what they do all day,” said Dickinson. “We want to talk with our clients about their business, learn more about their business, talk about their strategic mission and vision, maybe how their employees interact and work so we can get a sense of the meld of the whole building and how everything can work together. The more well-versed our clients are on what we do, the better work we can do.”

Dickinson hopes to create a basic awareness of the profession of architecture as well as what his firm has to offer. To aid in the process, the new facility also serves as a host to Boy and Girl Scout groups for tours, and two years ago hosted the 2000 Addy Awards.

While Dickinson has his hands full with numerous new projects, he also is quite consumed by his family, and happily so.

“We spend a lot of time at the lake and are currently renovating a 100-year-old Victorian home, which is a lot of fun,” Dickinson said. The family enjoys time together, traveling and salmon fishing.

Some of the other projects that keep Dickinson and his firm busy are the new Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, Charter Communications’ new facility, Herman Miller Marketplace, the Law Enforcement Agency in Niles, Founders Trust Bank’s new building on Cascade Road, Centerpointe Mall, the new Holiday Inn hotels in the area, corporate airport hangers, Watermark Country Club, and some work for Steelcase and Fifth Third Bank.

Looking ahead, Dickinson said one thing he hopes to focus more on is LEED Design and Green Building. “Some of our architects and designers have been trained and we are working on a company-wide goal. We also hope to educate clients about options they have in design,” said Dickinson. “There is a process you need to abide by and we have a responsibility to the environment. Our main focuses, however, are our commitments to our staff and quality design, and incorporating that into everything we do.”

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