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Best architecture

A new brochure map from AIA Grand Valley provides a guide to 52 important West Michigan buildings.

By Curt Wozniak

Recognizing ultimate superiority in any tightly competitive field is rarely easy, but if you thought you experienced brow-furrowing deliberation over your mock ballot at a friend's Oscar party, Ted Lott has something for you to consider: architecture.

Over the past year and a half, members of the American Institute of Architects Grand Valley Chapter debated their picks for the best buildings in the region.

Those discussions bore 52 selections, all of which are included in a new guide map — AIA Grand Valley Architectural Tour for Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon - that will be available soon.

Lott, a principal with Lott3Metz Architecture and AIA Grand Valley member, volunteered to chair the chapter's ad hoc committee responsible for researching the selections. The committee also included Phillip Lundwall, senior design principal with Progressive AE; Dan Iacovoni, associate partner with Cornerstone Architects; and Rebecca Smith Hoffman, co-owner of historic preservation consulting firm Past Perfect, who was hired as a consultant on the project.

Robert Daverman, senior architect with Progressive AE and AIA Grand Valley director and past president, provided oversight.

According to Lott, four core criteria were used in deciding which structures would be included in the guide.

  • Does the building have a prominent designer?
  • Is the building itself prominent regardless of the designer?
  • Is the building an important economic driver?
  • Is the building an institutional driver or a "pillar of the community"?

Such focused consideration resulted in an interesting mix of architecture styles and periods, from the Calkins Law Office — the oldest standing building in Grand Rapids — to Maya Lin's Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle, to the Van Andel Arena, (pictured above), which was designed by the Southfield office of international design firm Rossetti Associates. Historic churches such as St. Mark's Episcopal Church line up alongside more contemporary spaces for worship such as the Eric Mendelson-designed Temple Emanuel or Marcel Breuer's St. Francis de Sales Parish, (pictured below), of Norton Shores.

"We're architects, and we certainly love beautiful buildings, so that's obviously going to be part of the discussion," Lott said. "But to be honest, in our presentation here we felt that architecture and design — if it's really good — has more to it than just being pretty. So (the criteria) was really our effort to honestly address the import of some of the history of the area."

The project also may help bring attention to the history of the AIA itself, as the national organization celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

"Obviously, it's a happy coincidence that we'll roll this out in the year of the 150, since the whole idea behind the 150 is to give back to the citizens of the U.S.," said Nate Gillette, architect with Bazzani Associates and incoming AIA Grand Valley president. "I think it is going to be a very useful tool to help raise the awareness of architecture and the spaces around us.

"We interact with buildings every single day of our lives, but people have no idea what makes a building important, what makes a building significant. I've always felt that we should try to work to raise this awareness, and I hope this will do it."

The chapter hopes to distribute the maps through area chambers of commerce, major hotels and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Plans are also in the works for an accompanying podcast.

"You can always find an architect willing to talk," Lott added with a smile. GR

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