A surprising, certainly ignored fact in and around the downtown Flint area is the beauty of architecture represented in the houses and buildings. Just take a thoughtful look around, and focus on the structures themselves rather than the surroundings. Imagine, at one time in Flint’s distinguished history – before expressways and malls – this type of construction was the norm. And just think, the result of every one of these distinguished constructions came from the minds of a very specialized and talented group of architects.
The architectural profession has an eminent history, tracing its roots back to 1857, when the American Institute of Architects (AIA) was established. Their original premise, to create an architecture organization that “promotes the scientific and practical perfection of its members” and “elevates the standing of the profession” still stands today.
The AIA has grown to a robust, focused organization providing guidance, service, and standards to architects around the world. Today, the AIA has more than 300 chapters in the United States and its territories, as well as in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and Hong Kong. Michigan has 10 chapters. The AIA Flint became the fifth AIA chapter in Michigan in September of 1960, with boundaries including Genesee, Lapeer, and Shiawassee Counties. Currently at the helm of the AIA Flint Chapter is Freeman T. Greer, CEO of Freeman’s Architecture on 720 Ann Arbor Street on the outskirts of downtown.
On July 8, the AIA Flint Chapter hosted the “Showcase of Flint Projects: Good Design Matters,” an AIA awards event for excellence in design, held at the 501 Bar & Grill in conjunction with the second Friday Art Walk in downtown Flint. The Huron Valley Chapter of the Michigan AIA juried the submittals and selected four projects worthy of the AIA Flint’s highest recognition, the Honor Award. Additionally, the jury selected one project to receive an Honorable Mention Award. This event lends to the support of AIA’s mission to promote good design and community awareness.
H2A Architects received the Honorable Mention award for its donor mural at the Hunger Solution Center. The center is a former furniture warehouse. Now, owned by the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, it is a 72,000-square-foot reclamation and distribution center for donated bulk foods. The mixed-media mural, a tribute to donors, was the collaborative project of design architect/painter, Sheri Ananich, and two cut-glass artists, Virginia Stevens and Amy Sutkowi. Nine feet high and 60 feet long, the mural features vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables that signify increasing donation levels.
The firm also submitted its work on downtown Cheboygan’s façade designs, funded by an incentive program through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “It was an exciting honor to receive this award and be recognized by peers,” Ananich says. Along with her husband, George Ananich, and Jackie Hoist, she is one of H2A’s three partners. The Davison firm is woman owned, socially responsible, and artistically inclined.
Luke M. Powers Catholic High School had occupied the same building on Flint’s northwest side since its inception in 1970.That all changed after years of searching for a new home when the school moved its operations to the former Michigan School for the Deaf campus in 2013. Fay Hall, the 6,800-square-foot building that now houses the main section of the school, was built in 1913 and had not been fully used since 1986. Its four floors needed extensive renovation before its new crop of students could attend. The architecture firm Gazall, Lewis & Associates took on the daunting project, for which they received their Honor Award.
“It took hard work, planning, and design to achieve a creative solution to meeting the needs of Powers High School,” says John Gazall, who is the second generation of his family to work at the firm, which his father, Robert, founded in 1968. “It’s been a privilege to work on, as a graduate of Powers,” he adds humbly.
Located in downtown Flint, Gazall, Lewis & Associates specializes in designing for businesses, schools, churches, and other institutions. They also conduct feasibility studies, develop master plans, and analyze building codes.
Shannon White, principal and founder of FUNchitecture, LLC, was given the Honor Award for the new Flint Farmersʼ Market building. Forty thousand square feet of the old Flint Journal building was demolished and transformed into the immensely popular downtown market, which has had 750,000 visitors since moving from its former location. In addition to its roughly 100 indoor and outdoor vendors of healthy and delicious food, the building hosts festivals, parties, holiday events, beer tastings, and more.
White says she is excited to win the Honor Award, which when given to a building is the quintessential design award of architecture, and adds that the Flint Farmersʼ Market building was also recognized by the American Planning Association as one of the 15 Great Places in America last year. “It was in company with Chicagoʼs Millennium Park and Balboa Park in San Diego, among others,” White adds.
FUNchitecture also designed the Hurley Children’s Center upstairs at the Flint Farmers’ Market. Its cheerful, colorful décor is specifically designed to help kids feel safe. The center won an Honorable Mention for interior architecture.
Sedgewick & Ferweda Architects received an Honor Award for the interior design of the new Michigan AIA office location in Detroit. They also displayed their design for the Satori House, designed by Kurt Neiswender. In a northern Michigan setting near Lake Michigan shoreline, the house conforms to the Passivhaus standard of extreme energy efficiency, and evokes Zen minimalism. The Passivhaus standard has four tenets—solar orientation to ensure that as much of the homeʼs energy as possible comes from the sun, a super-insulated envelope to reduce energy expenditure, airtight construction to eliminate leaks, and fresh air ventilation that uses stale inside air to heat incoming fresh air. All in all, reliance on fossil fuels is drastically reduced or eliminated.
Kingdom of Heaven Ministries, Hamilton Community Health Care Network, and Totem Books are a disparate group of local organizations—but the one thing they have in common is that Freeman Greer worked with them as their architect. These projects were displayed at the event. Greer is recognized as a historical architect. He was behind the renovation of the Stockton House downtown, now the Stockton Center museum and location of professional office space. His accomplishments also include the Flint Vehicle City arches, First Street Lofts, and Owosso’s Young Chevrolet Dealership, as well as many other projects throughout Michigan.
A lifelong Flint-area resident, Greer has been working in the architecture field since the mid-1980s after developing a passion for the vocation in high school. Holding a master’s degree in architecture and science through Lawrence Institute of Technology, Greer has worked at various architecture design firms throughout the years, eventually starting his own company in 2014. “Flint is where I live and where I want to be,” he says with conviction, “and it is a lot of fun to be here right now!”
These proud AIA Flint members carry on the established tradition of the organization since the original 19 registered architects and 18 associate architects started the chapter over 50 years ago. The reason for AIA Flint remains the same – to service their members and help the communities in which they live and work become a better place because of an AIA architect’s commitment to the trade.
The City of Flint is an outstanding location for art and architecture and has been reinvented several times over its 161-year history. The AIA Flint Chapter is presently working on updating the “Flint Guide to Architecture,” which won a national AIA award several years ago. Many buildings in the guide have been added or expanded, and smartphone technology will be used to make the guide an augmented reality piece for visitors to the city. The AIA Flint Chapter is growing and expanding its services to the Flint community. Flint is fortunate to have a group of very talented architects assembled to design its future in the age of rapidly expanding information technology growth.
For more information regarding the AIA Flint Chapter, visit http://www.aiaflint.com/membership/directory/.