Doing Real Good Stuff

October 10, 2008
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Affirmations are always welcome news. But they can often be more than that, even exhilarating at times, especially when the praise comes from one’s peers.

Greg Metz feels that way because his colleagues in the Grand Valley chapter of the American Institute of Architects chose to give him the 2008 Young Architect Award, a prestigious prize that highlights the chapter’s annual Honor Awards program.

“With all my gray hair, it’s nice to know that I’m still young,” Metz joked when asked how he felt about winning the honor.

“It’s pretty cool to be recognized by your peers. In my opinion, there is no higher honor than when your peers say you’re worthy of this pretty good award. It feels good.”

Metz, 38, said the award authenticates the first-rate work that he and his partner, Ted Lott, have done over the past five years at Lott3Metz Architecture.

“It confirms the work that we’ve done and shows they appreciate it. Just the work that Ted and I have been doing in the neighborhoods has people saying, ‘That’s good stuff.’ And it feels good because it validates our work.”

Metz was doing good stuff even before he joined Lott in 2003 at the architecture and interior design firm they own. For five years at Progressive AE, he designed projects for Steelcase Inc., including its University Learning Center, which he said is still one of his favorite designs. And he continues to credit a notable local architect with playing a key role in his burgeoning career.

Chuck Posthumus hired Metz as a designer right after he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Detroit, where he later also earned his master’s. Metz spent seven years designing custom, high-end homes for Posthumus.

“He is a great guy to start with. You learn the business quickly and you learn how to deal with clients with Chuck. He is great with clients,” he said.

Metz said Posthumus helped instill in him a genuine passion for residential design.

“I love commercial, but I can never get away from the intimacy of residential. I always want to do at least a couple of residential projects every year,” he said.

The enthusiasm Metz feels for his residential work shows vividly in the interior design he did for the condominiums at 65 Monroe Center, a building Virgin Soil Development LLC renovated. For a long time the structure was a bank branch, and before that it was an office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two uses that don’t generally inspire interior design. But Metz made it work and he said he considers it to be one of his best projects.

“That was a fun one that really turned out kind of cool. The interiors in that are really kind of far out. It’s very ‘big city living,’” he said.

On the commercial side, Metz said he derives a lot of pleasure from designing branch offices for Lake Michigan Credit Union, including the new one going up in Jenison.

“Their CEO (Sandra Jelinski) is really what I would call a true visionary. She is pushing us to design these new branches for her that are really kind of modern, and they’re fun to work on because she is pushing us,” said Metz.

“She said she can’t do the old-fashioned stuff and we have to look to the future because we’re designing for the future, so Lake Michigan Credit Union is a fun project and a fun client,” he added. “Steelcase, too. I’ve done incredible projects with them lately that just turned out super.”

Those who know Metz know he is someone who practices what he preaches. Not only has he been a longtime advocate for the principles of sustainable design, he also uses those standards in his work. He has designed sustainable housing in the city and helped the Inner City Christian Foundation and the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum create green guidelines. He also is a LEED-accredited architect and an adjunct professor at Kendall College of Art & Design.

Metz said he first wanted to become an architect when he was 6 years old. Back then the most influential person in his life, his dad, regularly took him to the library, and because of those trips, he became fascinated with books about all sorts of buildings.

“I’d check out as many of those as I could,” he said. “I don’t know what it was; maybe the romanticism of it appealed to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I stuck with it. I guess I was crazy at an early age. I think you have to be crazy to be an architect.”

The saner side of his life involves Jennifer, his wife of nearly 13 years, and their three young children: Enzo, Estelle and Sabine, who range in age from 5 years to 11 months. Greg met Jennifer, then a Chicago Art Institute graduate student, while she was researching furniture factories for her thesis. Jennifer went on to form Past Perfect Inc. with Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, a firm that helps developers earn tax credits for building renovations, and chaired the city’s Planning Commission.

This year’s Young Architect Award is the second for the firm; Lott captured the same prize three years ago.

“We have egos, of course, and I think we’re both proud of the fact that as owners of this firm, we’ve both been recognized for our accomplishments. … We’re in that unique little club and there aren’t a lot of members that happen to own a firm together,” said Metz.

“We joke that 100 percent of the owners are Young Architects of the Year. But it just validates what we are doing and it makes us proud — proud of what we’re doing.” CQ

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