Finding the best answer to the building puzzle

September 23, 2008
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RICH CRAIG

Company: Craig Architects Inc.
Title: Owner
Age: 57
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: Plainfield Township
Family: Wife, Jean; children Andrew, Kathryn and Maureen.
Business/Community Organizations: National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, American Institute of Architects, Mel Trotter Ministries, Christian Businessmen’s Committee, Bill Glass Champions for Life.
Biggest career break: Joining DeWinter and Associates in time to help design the conversion of the Pantlind Hotel into the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and tower.

Rich Craig has quietly and unassumingly solved some of the most complicated local architectural puzzles, and that ability has enabled him to design some of the city's most striking interiors and exteriors, a lengthy list of buildings that includes The BOB, Union Square and the Metro Health Cancer Center.

But his latest creation, the Women's Health Center in MidTowne Village, which opened last month, has brought him a bigger share of acclaim than usual — and for a number of reasons, both personal and professional.

The project has been one of the most visible he has ever designed, having been in the news for the better part of two years. It's in a well-known spot, just north of Michigan Street along the Medical Mile. He is well known in the medical community because his firm, Craig Architects Inc., has a solid design reputation in the health care field. And his wife, Jean, is a respected physician.

"There was a lot more recognition (with this) than the other buildings I've done that are also prominent, that people maybe don't know about. Union Square, which is the old Union High School, was a pretty visible project also, but I'm not sure that as many people knew about that one," he said of the condominium building owned by Parkland Properties.

Craig Architects has been in business since 1999 in a beautifully restored building at 25 S. Division Ave., which Craig designed and developed. He is the firm's sole owner and he has a staff of seven led by right-hand man Jeff Hunt.

He said his firm's workload is equally split three ways — between commercial and residential renovations, religious structures and medical facilities.

Working out the details

There are a lot of things that Craig likes about what he does, but it's clear that relating to clients, the variety the work offers him, and solving puzzles top his list.

"What I like best is working out the problems with a building, and sitting down and working out a detail. I enjoy working with clients. I know for the most part — and maybe it's true for all architects — that they kind of become your friends afterwards," he said.

"To me, a building is a puzzle. I like doing crosswords, sudokus and those kinds of things. I try to find the best answer for the particular problem. We're not doing the same thing 100 times, every time. We're designing something new: There's a different site, a different set of circumstances and a different use for a building.

"It's just a puzzle that you put together; it's a mental challenge."

Architecture in the blood

Architecture runs in the family. Craig is a third-generation designer who followed in the footsteps of a great uncle — his grandmother's brother — and an uncle — his mother's brother — who both plied their trade in Connecticut. His great uncle was a municipal architect, while Uncle Louis designed projects in the private sector.

"One of the breaks I got was I was able, at a young age, to spend a day in the office with him whenever we visited there, which was once or twice a year," he said of his uncle.

"I got to know a little bit about what an architect did and what their job was like at a young age.

"Now my niece, my sister's daughter, is starting her first year in architectural school at the University of Michigan, so she will be the fourth generation."

Moving to West Michigan

Craig was working in the Detroit office of John Stevens and Associates when wife Jean decided she wanted to practice medicine on the west side of the state. He applied for an opening at Marvin DeWinter's firm in 1979, when DeWinter and Associates was designing the new Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Little did he know that working with DeWinter, one of the city's most renowned architects at the time, would turn into an opportunity to eventually establish himself as a leading designer here.

"I was put on the design team which designed the hotel, and that was what really got me started and brought me to Grand Rapids," he said.

Craig left DeWinter and Associates after four years, but then rejoined Marvin DeWinter as a partner in DeWinter and Craig nine years later in 1991.

"So I would say knowing Marv — and also learning from Marv — was probably one of the biggest boosts that I got," Craig said.

Craig and Jean have been married for 35 years and have three children: Andrew, Kathryn and Maureen. Jean, a Niles native, is a gynecologist who had her own practice until six years ago. Now she is a clinical director at Spectrum Health.

The two met at college.

"I met her while I was in my second year at the University of Michigan and she was in her first week there. So I was able to get to her before she saw what all the good-looking guys looked like," he said with a laugh.

"We were married two years later."

Craig earned his bachelor's and master's in architecture on the Ann Arbor campus. He was born in Detroit and now lives in Plainfield Township.

When he isn't working, he likes to stay in shape. He does that through running, but not quite as often as he once did, and through his membership at the YMCA, which he has had for 30 years and uses regularly.

He also volunteers his time and talents to faith-based groups.

"I am a board member with the Christian Businessmen's Committee and a board member of Mel Trotter. And I was on the national board for Bill Glass Champions for Life, which is a prison ministry," he said.

The next 10 years

Don't expect Craig to make major changes in his immediate future, but some alterations may be in order. Look for him to relieve himself of some daily tasks at the firm, something he feels he can do with Hunt and the other members of his staff on board. At the same time, though, don't be at all surprised if he gets a bit more involved in the development side of the business once the economy improves.

"Well, I'd like to get to a point where I have a little less day-to-day responsibility and maybe take Fridays off, every now and then," said Craig.

"As well as being an architect, I develop, and it's been a very difficult time the last couple of years in terms of the economy and now the national economy. So I've got a lot of challenges.

"I'd like to get my real estate portfolio on a little more solid ground and then kind of wander from there as to where I go in terms of what I do for the next 10 years."

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