Keeping The Faith

November 5, 2007
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The company's core calling is to merge religious faith with a successful architectural practice. And AMDG Architects Inc. has met its spirited mission.

Once primarily a two-person firm, AMDG now designs from 30 to 45 projects each year with budgets ranging from $500,000 to $15 million and averages $2 million annually in billings. In the past 10 years, the firm has designed more than 150 projects, for a combined 2.6 million square feet of space and over $220 million in construction costs.

AMDG claims to have the highest percentage of registered architects to total employees in the region, and the design team has more than a century's worth of cumulative experience.

"The core motivation of our firm has always been merging faith with practice and kind of driving the real fundamental decisions, or culture, around what we believe is the right thing to do. And then we try to apply that in a business context and a design context," said Peter Baldwin, principal of AMDG Architects Inc.

"The idea is not just talking about stuff on Sunday and working all day, but how do we apply what you believe in what you do."

Those words are more than just rhetoric to the architects and support staff at the firm. The motive that Baldwin referred to has deep roots in the company's name, a name that serves as a constant reminder of who they are and why they're here. AMDG is an acronym for Ad Majorem Dei Glorium, which in Latin means, "To the Greater Glory of God."

AMDG Architects Inc.

Who: Peter Baldwin, Brent Dykstra, Tom Sinke and Don Cok, principals
What: Residential, commercial, institutional and sports-recreation design firm
When: Founded by Calvin Jen in Ann Arbor in 1992
Where: 25 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Why: Rising firm makes faith-based business decisions

So how does AMDG incorporate its belief into its daily practice?

"I think that's a great question. And the answer is, sometimes not well and sometimes well, because we're still human beings and we fall and do things that aren't always perfect. But I think the application of it is centered in relationships with people, and is centered on really doing what we believe is right, in terms of the client and in terms of the consultant," said Baldwin.

"It comes down to the decisions you make, how you treat people and the values that you integrate into what you're doing. It could come down to how you bill your time, how rigorous you are from an integrity standpoint and how you handle money. We haven't done it perfectly. The reality is we've made mistakes, but it's the pursuit of it. It's like baseball, you don't bat 1.000. But it's still good to be in the batter's box."

Calvin Jen set the playing field for AMDG Architects when he founded the firm in 1992 in Ann Arbor.

Jen was the vice president of real estate development and property management at Domino Farms and taught design at the University of Michigan, where Baldwin was one of his students and began working with him. They worshipped at the same Presbyterian church in Ann Arbor and participated together in an ecumenical charismatic Christian community. They became friends.

"So our connection started as student and professor and grew into a friendship that was kind of grounded in our common faith," said Baldwin.

Jen moved AMDG to Grand Rapids in 1994 and operated the firm from his home in Lowell. Baldwin joined Jen as a partner three years later. The company moved into its current office at 25 Commerce Ave. SW six years ago. It was a return home for both of them.

"We actually both come from West Michigan. We both grew up here and we both have family here. So I think the short answer is, we came back because we thought we were going to end up working where we grew up, because we wanted to be by family and work in an environment where we had connections and people we knew," said Baldwin.

Brent Dykstra, Tom Sinke and Don Cok became shareholders of the company in 2005. Sinke and Dykstra were named associates in 2001, and Cok followed them a year later.

AMDG grew pretty quickly after Baldwin joined Jen, who retired recently but still consults. The firm has 13 employees today, with five architects in that group, and has reached 18 employees on several occasions when the workload demanded it. The company covers the design gamut, but Baldwin said the firm's area of expertise comes into play before the sketches even get started.

"Our specialty is actually taking a project and fitting the right team around it and creating the right process for it, and then doing it really well. What we've ended up doing is a lot of sports and recreational work. We do a lot of medical work. We do a lot of residential work. We've done not-for-profit church work. We've done office, commercial, dealerships and light industrial," he said.

Most recently, AMDG has been busy in sports-and- recreation design. The firm designed the football field at Grand Rapids Christian High School, the MVP Fieldhouse and the MVP Sportsplex, an $11 million, 96,000-square-foot fitness and aquatic center in Grand Rapids.

Baldwin said he didn't think designing those types of facilities were any easier than, say, a commercial building, as the basic process remains the same. But he felt designing a sports-related facility was different, as these projects contain a key factor that others don't.

"With that building, you try to celebrate how people play and also how they watch. People really like to play and they really like to watch. So in those buildings, you have to set up those relationships."

Baldwin said the growth AMDG has generated the past 10 years has come from the commitment the firm has made to its clients. He said the baton doesn't get passed around very much at AMDG. The dedication the firm's staff has made to the company has also made a strong contribution to that growth.

Baldwin added, though, that part of the firm's success has come from how AMDG looks at a design.

"We've always seen buildings as a way to kind of serve people. And, ultimately, buildings aren't just bricks and are not just mortar, but really are kinds of tools or places or spaces, and are ultimately about how people use them."     CQX

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