In this online panel discussion and presentation, branding experts, architects and designers answer business owners’ pressing questions about designing, building out and refreshing their commercial spaces.
Business owners with existing space and those who are in the planning stages pose questions to our panel of experts:
Meaghan Barry, partner and creative director – Unsold Studio (and recently named one of Crain’s Detroit Business’ Notable Women of Design): “With our clients, we talk about a priority list and a wish list. We identify what is the priority – what will make the most impact.”
Naomi Beasley-Porter, architectural designer – NSPIRD Design Studio: “(Designers) can work together to create a style guide so there are minimum standards in place. It pertains to finishes and quality, so the design is consistent throughout.”
Bryan Cook, registered architect – Berardi Partners: “It’s important to have good team members around you. (Architects and designers) can save you money because of what we know.”
Kenneth Crutcher, registered architect – Crutcher Studio: “If you have a budget, we can work with it, but you have to be upfront and honest about what that budget is.”
These experts have designed some of the best known small commercial businesses in Detroit. Watch to get helpful advice and tips before you build.
On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, the SpaceLab Innovation Center, powered by SpaceLab Detroit, hosted a timely webinar to discuss the role of architecture and urban planning in creating safe, healthy living environments: Toward More Equitable Living Environments: African Americans, Architecture and Planning in the Time of COVID-19. View the video replay of the discussion by clicking the link above. Show notes are below the panelists’ bios.
Cities with majority Black populations like Detroit, Baltimore and New Orleans have been greatly impacted by COVID-19. At the end of April, Data Driven Detroit estimated that about one quarter of COVID-19 cases in Michigan were in Detroit despite the city being only 6.7% of the state’s population. APM Research Lab in St. Paul, Minnesota reports that nationwide, African Americans are dying from the virus at three times the rate of white Americans.
Discussion topics included the value placed on Black communities, causes for the disparity in cases of the virus and death rates, ideas for changes to city infrastructure design during and after this pandemic, and how design professionals can adapt to changing environments.
Kimberly Dowdell, a licensed architect and urban thought leader who is focused on building resilient, healthy and sustainable cities. A native of Detroit, Kimberly’s passion for design as a catalyst for urban revitalization was inspired by childhood experiences in her hometown. She went on to live in Ithaca, Rome, Washington, New York and Boston prior to returning to Detroit in 2015, where she worked on neighborhood-scale reinvestment efforts until her relocation to Chicago in 2019. Kimberly’s professional mission is to improve the quality of life for people living in cities. She believes in building diverse, cross-sector teams to solve our society’s most complicated challenges with a lens towards justice and equity. She is the 2019-2020 National President of National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and a Principal in the Chicago studio of HOK, a global architecture and planning firm.
Andre Perry, PhD, a fellow at Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC., and author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. Dr. Perry’s research focuses on race and structural inequality, community engagement, education, economic inclusion, and workforce development. He is a frequent contributor to news programming on NBC, National Public Radio, TheGriot.com, CNN, and other national media outlets. (@andreperryedu on Twitter and Instagram and firstname.lastname@example.org)
Donald Rencher, Director of Housing and Revitalization with the City of Detroit. Since 2015, he has served the City in multiple roles, including working on mixed income, mixed use development projects and financial underwriting. Prior to working at the City of Detroit, Donald was senior lead counsel to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority where he worked on large-scale, affordable housing development and served over its single-family housing portfolio.
Moderated by: Michael Randall, urban planner and Director of Community Impact at the American Heart Association Detroit. He has devoted his career and life to the development of communities around the country and the world. His expertise includes, but is not limited to, public health, urban planning, housing, community enrichment and financial capabilities. Michael has served on both public and nonprofit boards including the Ypsilanti Planning Commission, the Ypsilanti Library Board of Trustees and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. His entrepreneurial endeavors include co-owning and operating the community enrichment organization, Maureen James Community Enrichment.
page header photo credit: Mike Birdy
Purchase Know Your Price at Source Booksellers, a Detroit Small Business
Questions: Q&A (49:45 – 55:21): We see diversity in public spaces that have an attraction appeal. i.e..Millenium Park. How do we design parks inclusively so that level of diversity is co-existing in neighborhoods? Is this an opportunity for black/LatinX architects to enable this kind of participation? (via Michael R.)
Q&A (56:04): What will it take to provide more section 8 support for Detroit housing? will additional section 8 support encourage developers to invest in Detroit? (via Marla M.)
Q (57:04 – 1:00:42): At what point do we fund our projects with our money from our banks (Credit Unions as well)? One United Bank for example. (via Kendal B.)
Q&A (1:04:04 – 1:05:00): How do you recommend that we tackle explaining these histories and systemic racial practices within our universities architectural history classes? And make sure these community histories of disenfranchisement are kept in mind by designers even at the early stages of their education? (via Ramatoulie S.)
Q&A (1:05:45: 1:06:36): Are the panelists engaged in any real estate development or affordable housing projects? (via Vic B.)
Education: Home Builders Association of Southeast Michigan (HBA) has scholarships for students heading to or already enrolled in any aspect of construction education. Deadline extended into July. (via Elizabeth W.)
Noir Design Parti: Important work and history of minority architects in Detroit is the focus of this Knight Arts Challenge award-winning project. Find out more about our work and support our mission! (via Saundra L.)
SpaceLab’s co-founder and CEO Karen Burton is an educator, historian, and diversity and inclusion advocate in the architecture and construction industry. Along with her colleague Saundra Little, AIA, NOMA, she founded Noir Design Parti, a Knight Arts Challenge winning project that chronicles the projects and career journeys of Michigan’s African American Architects. On Feb. 17, an interview with Karen will air on Michigan Radio where she will introduce listeners to Donald White, AIA, the first Black graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Michigan’s and Alabama’s first licensed Black architect.
Karen and Saundra will discuss the role of Black architects in Detroit’s design history to students in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) on Feb. 15, and on Feb. 21 at 5:30 PM, they’ll lead a panel discussion with five of Detroit’s leading architects at The University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.
Karen will also be a panelist on the topic “Revitalizing ‘Main Street'” at the 10th Annual Detroit Impact Conference, the flagship event of the Detroit Revitalization and Business (DR&B) Club at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
As part of Detroit StartUp Week, SpaceLab’s member architects and designers tell how to get the most out of a relationship with these professionals and answer questions at “Ask the Architects and Designers.”
You’ve decided that you want to build out your restaurant or retail space. Should you hire an architect? What do architects do? Representatives of Detroit-based architectural firms share information on the best design practices on for your project and how to engage professional services to make your space the place that you love to come to work and welcome your customers.
Moderator: Doreen Hunter, ASID – Owner, HDesigns Group, LLC and Library Coordinator, SpaceLab Detroit
Wes Sims, Vice President – SDG Associates
Paul Carr, Architectural Designer – SDG Associates
Kevin Boyle, AIA, NCARB – BASIC Design
Bryan Cook, RA, NOMA – Detroit Director, Berardi + Partners
Doreen owns HDesigns Group and is Design Library Coordinator at SpaceLab Detroit. She has a degree in Interior Design (with a minor in Business Management) from Central Michigan University and has residential and commercial experience in her portfolio. Doreen was recently elected Finance Director of the Michigan chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.
Kevin Boyle, AIA, NCARB, EDAC
Kevin, a licensed architect, holds both Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Master of Architecture degrees from Lawrence Technological University. Early in his career, Kevin worked on construction documentation for renovations and additions to several historic Detroit Public School structures and loft conversion projects. Significant past work includes single family residences in coastal Long Island towns, commercial projects in New York City, twin 37-story condominium towers at CityCenter in Las Vegas, and expansive work in the senior living and healthcare field.
Bryan Cook, NOMA
As the Director of Berardi Partners’ Detroit office, Bryan is instrumental in overseeing business/client development, new market sector initiatives, and talent acquisition. He also serves as Project Manager and oversees multiple projects while working directly with the client and development team in producing quality design and documents from schematic design through construction administration. Bryan is current treasurer and past president of the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
Bruce Kopytek, AIA, NCARB
Bruce has 40+ years of architecture experience. His specialty in the field is creative design, for which he has received several awards and accolades, including the prestigious “Ceramic Tiles of Italy” honorable mention for his work in the financial facilities market. Bruce has designed all types of structures; from banks and retail stores to custom homes, hotels and high-rise apartments. In addition, Bruce is an author and educator, having taught for Wayne State university’s interior architecture program and counts four (a fifth is on its way) published titles and a major article in Michigan History magazine.
On this Earth Day, we’re sharing a case study blog post by Vivian White at SpaceLab’s architects Centric Design Studio from their blog, Inside the Studio
Sustainable design also means healthier design – and healthier processes. Most of us spend over one-third of our lives inside office buildings. This makes the design of buildings and office space very important to our environment and our health. Creating healthier workplaces is a central part of Centric Design Studio’s sustainable design strategy. The ways in which we use energy, and our choices of materials and processes, are the most effective way to reduce fossil fuel emissions and contaminants released from materials and processes.
Take a look inside one of our (recent) design projects. SpaceLab Detroit opened their doors for their first public grand opening June 8th, 2017. SpaceLab Detroit is a co-working office space in downtown Detroit area, conceived by husband and wife team, Bobby and Karen Burton. It is a state of the art, efficiently designed work space for today’s entrepreneurs, architects, engineers, and construction service providers.
On this project, the south facing windows maximize the benefits of daylight from both the morning and evening sun. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D and is critical for facilitating vision and our bodies’ ability to regulate hormones, which in turn keeps processes related to alertness, digestion, and sleep functioning properly.
Prioritizing around natural light minimizes electricity usage, the largest source of carbon emissions. In addition, most of the lighting used in the space is LED, which uses energy more efficiently than traditional lighting and emits less heat. Motion sensors cause the lights to turn off when there is no movement in the room. Using less electricity helps us keep our environment healthier and adds up to big financial savings for the owner and tenant.
Adding to the comfort level and energy efficiency of this space was a switch from steam heat to gas, allowing the occupants more control over temperature. The radiators were kept to maintain the character of the space, however, the duct work was reconfigured to facilitate the new system.
Use of Materials
Acoustical ceiling tiles are used in the offices for noise reduction. Environmentally-friendly materials were used for the carpeting, which also utilizes processes to maintain clean indoor air quality. Designer roller shades will give occupants maximum control over the amount of natural light to allow in, while also providing protection from UV light.
Located in the heart of Detroit, SpaceLab is a model for the future of design and economic growth. Design challenges within the city’s 2030 District consist of a delicate balance between maintaining buildings historical intellect while deploying healthy, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing key elements. All of this adds up to a reduction in fossil fuel energy use and costs. LED lighting also qualified the business owners for a sizable rebate from DTE Energy. What is not to like about implementing sustainable design?
Fieldstone Architecture & Engineering is a full-service A&E firm focused on providing tailored services to the most trusted builders and developers in the United States. The company focuses on Residential & Golf Communities, Commercial, Clubhouse & Amenity, and Luxury Custom Homes.
They have dedicated their efforts to finding and developing the most talented people in the industry, and they’ve built a team that understands the full build cycle.
With their new office at SpaceLab Detroit, the company now has six offices in Michigan, Minnesota and Florida. In 2015, Fieldstone was listed in Inc. magazine as as one of America’s 5000 fastest-growing privately held companies due to their 600% growth over 3 years time.
Welcome, Bruce Kopyteck, AIA, Ryan Rassmussen, PE, Allan Djordjevic, and the entire Fieldstone A&E team!
Michal Catari is founder and CEO of Wolf Virtual Reality. He previously owned construction companies and has been a construction manager and project manager for development companies. Michal has architecture and interior design degrees from Lawrence Technological University.
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent intern Micah Womack spoke with Michal about starting a company, virtual reality, and technology in construction, real estate, and the industrial sector.
Micah: Can you tell me about your company?
MC: Wolf Virtual Reality is the name of the company. The trademarked name is “Wolf VR.” Wolf VR is a visualization company in Detroit. We help companies primarily in the real estate market illustrate their properties so they can get advanced funding and early pre-sales or pre-leases of properties.
Micah: As someone going to college, what advice would you give me?
MC: For those who may want to work at Wolf VR, mathematics would be one thing. Some art would definitely be a big plus. The mathematics comes into play when you have to do measurements. It’s not very complex, but it’s good to have to be able to figure out sizes of rooms, volumes and scales. In terms of visualization and art, maybe some hand-sketching or painting because we’re looking for more of the creative types to come on board.
Micah: What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
MC: Probably be the best thing to think about would be to develop solid contacts. This industry is built on contacts. You can have great advertisements and awesome campaigns, but you have to build relationships with individuals, and build their trust one-on-one. My advice is to have a solid network of people from different industries who could eventually use your services.
Micah: Walk us through your management strategies.
MC: As the owner, I need to develop strong relationships with whomever I manage. I also need to identify targets for segments or markets I’d like to pursue.
So, management processes: I oversee a lot of things within our organization – advertising, marketing, payroll, cash flow. I also have to be very mindful about contracts, proposals and estimates. In our engagement with the customer, we acknowledge what they’re trying to achieve, and then we start by developing a schedule so we can be on time with our services and fit within our customer’s schedule.
Micah: What are the biggest issues in construction, real estate and design today,
MC: Construction is one division built on tradition. They do things a certain way and aren’t always the most willing to make changes. Then here we come with a completely new technology, introducing how it can be used in various industries, from medical to construction to real estate to advertising to retail. Although this technology is costly, in the long run it will benefit us if we can be early adopters and allow it to prove itself to work. In our case, we helped a lot of real estate agents, owners and construction companies visualize what’s coming in their projects, and the return is maybe 100 times their investment.
Micah: What’s been the best feedback you’ve received from a client?
MC: I think it’s our attention to detail that’s most captivating to our audience. We spend quite a bit of time portraying what something would look like in the real world through an artificial world that we’re creating. Our attention to detail allows helps our client and their end user to truly visualize what they’re going to get, whether it’s the soap dispenser on the countertop, to the bedsheets, or the flooring or lighting. It’s a true representation as if it was real.
So, our attention to detail, our timeliness, and the communication has been the most rewarding. I would say probably the utmost is, “Thank you for helping us sell our property in five days for over $3 million.”
Micah: What’s your growth plan? What areas are you targeting?
MC: We’re trying to focus on the real estate market. So far, that has been, our most successful segment. We’re also looking at growing into different products so we have a full-service offering for our customers. We started off with visualizations; then full 3D images for virtual tours; then our most elite service: full immersion. Through the use of technology, we can insert that customer into that environment that does not yet exist.
For growth, we’re adding services that our client would typically get from different sources. For example, web pages, project management, and also specialty cameras that do a 360-degree pan of the room, and we stitch them together without having to do animation work. We’re also adding drone services. We decided to combine all those services under one roof.
We are looking to expand into the construction and industrial industries and focus on training using full immersion, our top-end service. We can simulate tasks and provide a training mechanism. If someone is afraid of heights, we can virtually put them on a skyscraper looking down, incrementally increasing their awareness and helping them to be more comfortable in order to relieve any stress.
We can also teach people how to properly do their jobs. If one person has a high level of skill that they’ve developed over 25 or 30 years, they take those skill sets with them when they retire. It will take the next generation another 30 years to develop to that skill level. We can have the senior level person tell us how they execute certain tasks, and then simulate those exact tasks to create a simulation training module, saving the company training costs.
Micah: What is the biggest item on your to-do list.
MC: I’d say it’s to secure a perpetual contract with an outfit – whether that be a construction company, a design house, or a real estate agent. We want to be their go-to source for visualizations, and we’d have a steady stream of income coming in week after week. It could be repetitive, but always something new.
Micah: What technology are you using?
MC: We’re using the latest technology in terms of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed realities. Those vary between software and hardware packages.
You asked about education. If you have a desire or passion to do or learn what we Wolf VR offers, we are very willing to teach. We find that the people who are very interested and passionate are the ones who are the most creative producers. You don’t have to have a degree – we can teach within the company.
Micah: What was your breakthrough project?
MC: I think it was the very first project that we received. It was from a gentleman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He knew my capabilities. I understood the project and what they were seeking. Someone took a huge chance on Wolf VR – we had only been open a few weeks – but he knew my integrity and the talent pool I would bring. We persevered, we gave them everything we had, and then even more. The relationship has been fruitful for us because now that customer has given us two jobs, and recently called us back for another.
Micah: What was your favorite project to do?
MC: There’ve been so many projects; they’re unique in their own way. If I had a favorite, I’d say the very first project. The owner emailed us and said, “I have these images. I’ve had this other firm put these together. Could you please make it look more realistic?”
That resonates with me because with our jobs thus far – except for only a couple – we’ve had to fix other people’s projects. Not necessarily mistakes, but we had to really take a look at what someone was trying to achieve and turn the customer’s pain into a more fruitful outcome, guaranteeing that the results would be to their satisfaction and exceed their level of expectation.
Micah: If there is one thing you could change about your company, what would it be?
MC: There really isn’t much to say about changing. We’re really evolving as a company. When I first started, it was visualization. I had a solid business plan, and we initially intended on doing simulations. However, as a new company, we had to work to establish leads for that work. So, we’ve taken on many different opportunities from real estate to video game development to other things which help us grow. Having experiences in those different segments really made me think that my initial business plan was just a starting point – we’ve evolved so much in one year.
I see Wolf VR becoming a very prominent player in Detroit and other markets across the country. The goal is to have a Wolf VR office in every state so that anyone can bring their plans and ideas knowing that our talent network will transform their visions into reality at a very moderate cost. We want to become the premier visualization company. There are internet services, but we all really still need to have the interaction with people. We’re an open company. If you drop by our office, somebody will take the time to come talk to you. Please come and see us.
Micah: That’s all I have for you today. It was nice interviewing you!
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent 2018 summer intern Micah Womack spoke with Bryan about architecture and running a firm.
Please tell me about your company.
Our company is called Berardi Detroit. We’re an architecture and engineering firm. We’ve been open since SpaceLab has been open. We primarily do multifamily housing projects and a lot of Motor City Match and Motor City ReStore Projects.
As someone going to college, what advice would you give me?
Figure out what you don’t want to do, and don’t do that. That’s the best advice I can give. A lot of people have a hard time finding what they want to do. I was one of the weird ones – I just wanted to be an architect, and I just kept going down that path. Unless you already know, try out some stuff, or if it doesn’t seem like something you don’t want to do, or if doesn’t even seem interesting, just avoid it. You’ve got to do some required classes here and there, but for the most part, try to avoid what you don’t want to do.
Why Detroit? Why did Berardi want to come to Detroit?
Berardi wanted to come to Detroit because they had almost 40 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations doing multifamily housing, apartments and senior living, and there seemed to be a gap in the market. There wasn’t a firm addressing, or talking, to nonprofits in that way, making them a focus. There’s a housing boom in the city, so it was kind of a perfect time to come along.
What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities in the future?
Still doing a lot of housing, but getting into different project types. There are a lot of childcare needs out there – that’s something I’m interested in doing. Even though there’s a lot of housing announced and a lot of housing that’ll be built soon, there will still be more needed.
Walk us through your management strategy.
One step at a time. We do weekly meetings with the team, and try to plan out our week. What do we have on the table this week that we have to get done? Obviously, if something comes along, we try to fit it in there. But I’ve found, if we at least plan for the week and address the things that need to be done that week, we’re pretty successful.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
Calling people back, and it’s a constant follow up. You might have a contact with a client one time, and you send them some information, and you might not hear back from them. Or you do, and you still need to call them. It’s a constant thing: just following up and making sure you’re building that relationship. That’s probably the biggest to-do that I do and don’t do. The squeaky wheel gets the oil sometimes. The client that’s calling me constantly, they’re going to get my attention, but I still need to address the other clients that don’t call as much just to make sure they’re happy with the way things are going.
What’s the worst advice you’ve gotten?
Don’t become a licensed architect.
What recent changes in the architecture industry have you seen that are positive?
I feel there’s more collaboration between different people and firms. I think collaboration is a trend. Before, it was “I do this, you do that.” I feel there’s more of a collaboration happening between architects, engineers, and even the contractor. If we don’t stay on the same page, it just goes left really fast.
If there was one thing you could change about your company, what would it be and why?
There’s not much I would change right now. I’d want more people to do more work, but I need more work to get more people. I think we’re right where we’re supposed to be; I think we’re growing. We’re trying to find the balance where we are, and then see where we need to go. I think it’s a constant move forward, and we’re doing that.
Tell us about NOMA.
NOMA is the National Organization of Minority Architects. I am the current Detroit chapter president. It’s a professional organization – the idea is to get people of color in the industry together to network. We’ve found that there aren’t a lot of us, so our emphasis is outreach to high school students like yourself, telling them that we’re architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, structural engineers – and you can be one, too. That’s really the only way we grow the numbers – by exposing it (architecture) to younger people. It’s not something you can turn just left into. Like say, you’re going to school for art, and then you decide to get an MBA and go into business. You can get an MBA and then go into architecture. It’s just not an easy road to turn into.
What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
My son was born – my second son was born. He’s six months now.
A question for myself: In school, when professionals come out and to speak to students, would you like to be one? Can reach back out to you?
LOUIS FISHER, AIA, NOMA is celebrating his 40th year of living in Detroit and practicing architecture in the city. Louis owns Architecture & Urban Design, PC, and was project architect for the U.S. Tennis Association’s Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums in Queens, NY (with Rossetti), the 1980’s expansion of Cobo Center in Detroit (with Sims-Varner) and designer for many other projects in Detroit. Louis is currently the national treasurer for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA).
BERARDI +, with Detroit Director Bryan Cook, NOMA, AIA (left) and his team, continues to offer architectural and design services for several Motor City Match and Motor City Re-Store retail and restaurant projects.
VM3 CONSULTING CORP. has been recognized as a Diversity Focused Company by Corp! magazine. Led by founder and CEO Alisha Moss, VM3 helps clients jumpstart diversity programs by providing strategies that will ingrain diversity into their organizations. As a small, minority, woman-owned strategic management consulting firm, VM3 understands the importance of diversity and the difficulty of implementing it into corporate culture.
In tribute to the amazing father and founding architect, Howard F. Sims, FAIA, his son Wesley and SDG Associates, LLC are excited to announce the creation of Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History building block sets. These unique custom interlocking blocks celebrate the rich history of Howard Sims as well as the magnificent museum that his firm, known as Sims-Varner and Associates at that time, designed in the late 1990’s.
This custom set includes a commemorative booklet, and lets you build the iconic museum and prized landmark of Detroit’s cultural landscape. A limited number of sets are available at the Charles H. Wright museum gift shop for purchase.
Please help us to celebrate one of Michigan’s oldest minority architecture firms, and a Detroit based business for over 50 years, as we memorialize on of its most famous works into the realm of Legomania!