Architects honor a trio of key individuals

May 21, 2009
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In addition to celebrating the work of some of the area’s top architectural firm, the Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects celebrated the accomplishments of three remarkable individuals at its annual Honor Awards program last Saturday evening.

Peter M. Wege, Sandy Stevenson and Mark Miller were honored by AIAGV for their significant contributions to design, the local industry and the community.

“All three are just solid, and I think they all epitomize each of those awards very well, which is great because that is what you like to see,” said Greg Metz, AIAGV president and principal in Lott3Metz Architecture.

Miller was named Young Architect of the Year. Stevenson was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. Wege was presented with the David D. Smith Humanitarian Award.

Wege, a visionary, author and poet, started the Wege Foundation in 1967 and made the environment its main funding priority. But education, community service and sustainable design have all been generously underwritten by his foundation, as have the arts.

Wege chaired the 1969 drive to bring Alexander Calder’s modernistic stabile, “La Grande Vitesse,” to the city at a time when many residents thought the work was too abstract and contemporary for a conservative city like Grand Rapids. “The Calder” is now the city’s symbol and its home is known as Calder Plaza. Wege has also been actively involved in funding the restoration of numerous buildings in the city, most notably those in the Heartside Business District and the city’s southeast side.

An individual very close to David Smith, whose name will always grace the humanitarian award, felt Wege was the perfect choice for the honor.

“What sums it up best is, I called Grace Smith, David Smith’s wife, and told her that Peter won the award. She said, ‘Greg, when this award was made, I always envisioned that he was the one who should get it. I felt that the award was made for someone as great as Peter Wege.’ She was elated,” said Metz.

“Here’s a man whose community-service leadership, especially in the past 10, 15 years, has just been extreme, has been great. Look at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It certainly raised the awareness of not only really good architecture, but also the fact that he insisted that it be a sustainable design. And his consistent insistence on sustainable design and the fact that he puts money behind it and leads by example says a lot. You don’t get a better leader in the community than that,” he added.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Sandy Stevenson is a senior vice president for URS Corp. and directs the firm’s Facilities Business Line. He has been a designer of complex educational, commercial and institutional projects, including overseas developments such as the Guanghou International Airport in China, for nearly four decades.

Stevenson is a member of the National Committee for Architecture in Education and a frequent guest speaker who addresses the current state and future trends of facility design and planning.

Metz said the vetting committee, the AIAGV board and interested bystanders not even involved with the selection process all agreed that Stevenson was the fitting person for the award.

“His name recognition is massive in our community. Part of that is he started out at the bottom and became a senior VP in a really large organization, and he has worked on some gigantic projects. He has been involved in a lot of really good projects from Day One and he has moved up,” said Metz.

“Everyone we talked to said Sandy was a really good teacher. A lot of people say, ‘Sandy is the reason why I am where I am today.’ He has a real gentle personality and you always feel like he cares. So I think as an architect, one, to be able to have a significant contribution to society on all these projects throughout the world is massive, and being able to give back to the people that work for him in the way that he does as a mentor. He is giving on both ends there. That’s what you want for lifetime achievement, someone who excels in all areas.”

Mark Miller, Young Architect of the Year, is an architect and urban planner for Nederveld Associates. He is also chairman of the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an NCI Certified Charrette Planner, a member of the West Michigan Chapter of the USGBC LEED-ND Member Circle, and a past president of AIAGV.

Miller has been the point man for the architectural guidebook his firm is putting together for the city of Hudsonville, a project that has been honored by the Michigan Association of Planning and AIAGV. Miller also was intricately involved with The Brikyaat Neighborhood plan, a specialized diagram for the northeast side commercial and residential area, which the city included in its Master Plan.

Through works like those, Metz said Miller busts a common stereotype that is regularly and unfairly attributed to architects.

“Everybody says architects can’t be urban planners: To be an urban planner you have to go to urban-planning school. Of course, we, as architects, disagree. And as an architect, I think he is an incredible urban planner,” said Metz.

“He is very, very sensitive and understands a community. Just based on that alone, that’s why he got Architect of the Year. He has an incredible talent when it comes to that. That’s some pretty serious stuff for a person under 40. That’s significant.” 

Progressive AE, Bravo Architects, GMB Architects-Engineers, Integrated Architecture, Lott3Metz Architecture, Cornerstone Architects and Gerber Architectural were the firms honored at the AIAGV Honor Awards.

The event was held at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

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