State’s two top young architects work in Grand Rapids
Both will be recognized for proficiency and ‘exceptional’ accomplishments.
Two Grand Rapids architects soon will be recognized as among the brightest in their field.
Megan Feenstra Wall of Mathison|Mathison Architects and Thomas Danckaert of Progressive AE will be awarded the Michigan Young Architect Award June 10 at the American Institute of Architects Michigan Awards Program at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
The award recognizes architects under the age of 40 who have been members of AIA Michigan for at least three years for “proficiency and exceptional accomplishments in and contributions to the profession by an architect.”
AIA Michigan’s board reviews the nominations and picks the winners. In 2015, three architects were chosen and, in 2014, just one was chosen.
“It’s at their discretion. I don’t think they have to give any if they don’t want to,” Wall said.
Both Wall and Danckaert are both experienced architects who knew fairly early on they were destined to become part of the industry.
Danckaert realized his interest in high school as he fancied the built environment and had an uncle working in architecture in Detroit, he said. He pursued the career as soon as he graduated high school, attending Lawrence Technological Institute in Southfield.
“While I had some sense of what architecture was, I had no idea the breadth of what it encompassed until I was in (college),” Danckaert said. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I wouldn’t trade careers for anything; this is an extension of my DNA.”
Wall knew her best school subjects were art and math, but her curiosity about many fields made it hard for her to pinpoint a career. The decision to pursue architecture came while earning her degree in art and engineering at Calvin College, where she graduated in 2002. She then moved to New York City and attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
After college, Danckaert and Wall followed different career paths.
For the past 12 years, Danckaert has worked at Progressive AE. He is the president of AIA Grand Rapids and an adjunct professor at Kendall College of Art and Design.
Following Wall’s graduation from Columbia, she joined Stephen Tilly Architects in New York City, where she worked for a little more than a year. Then, she said, “My husband and I took off — we decided to be a little irresponsible. We backpacked around Southeast Asia and worked at a ski resort in Colorado.”
That year off led to Wall’s husband heading to England to pursue a master’s degree, and she began working for Napper Architects in Newcastle. The couple returned to Grand Rapids two years later, and Wall began working at AMDG Architects before being asked to join MMA late in 2014.
Wall and Danckaert view their jobs in similar ways; they both hope to help create great spaces that will influence the way people live, work and play.
Working in England showed Wall that all buildings deserve a unique design, and she wants to change the way people view spaces, including a current project designing a renovation at St. Cecilia Music Center in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I find those the most rewarding — the nonprofits,” she said. “You can make change while trying to figure out how to do it in a cost-effective way.”
Danckaert has enjoyed projects such as John Ball Zoo’s Bissell Tree House and the Mary Free Bed YMCA, but he hesitates to pick favorites.
“I would say every project is my favorite because they’re all so universally unique,” he said.
Both architects said they view the Young Architect Award as validation that the careers they’ve built were the correct choice for them. Both want to influence the way Grand Rapids is designed and to help young architects find the industry the same way they did.
“In a nutshell, I want to continue to do great work with great clients and great people,” Danckaert said. “West Michigan, and Grand Rapids, in particular, is in such a cool stage of its development, and it’s fun to be a part of that.”