Archive for May 2022

May 16, 2022

How Detroit-based Architect Saundra Little, FAIA, Designs for Her City

Christina Sturdivant Sani | TopicA

By Christina Sturdivant Sani

After co-founding Detroit-based Centric Design Studio and operating it for a decade, Saundra Little’s firm was acquired by Washington, D.C.-based Quinn Evans Architects in early 2019. With more than 15 years in the industry, Little had designed several notable projects at that point, including design-build renovations at Burton International Academy, a Detroit public school, and the award-winning design of the David Klein Gallery. The acquisition of Evans’ company landed her the role of principal in Quinn Evans’ Detroit office.

Three years earlier, Little’s history and documentation project Noir Design Parti was selected as one of Detroit’s winners in the 2016 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge. The project, which she conceptualized with historian and diversity and inclusion advocate Karen Burton, documents the careers and creative works of Detroit’s African American architects.

Most recently, Little accepted the position of director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Quinn Evans. “I’m interested in seeing how I can continue to move the needle in architecture for minorities in the profession,” she says. She also serves as the Midwest Vice President of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

Read on to learn about her passion for community development and history, the challenges on her road to becoming an architect, and vision for Noir Design Parti.

How would you describe your niche as an architect?

All roads lead to history. I work on a lot of adaptive reuse projects, and I do some new construction, but everything is in the community neighborhood setting. So I would say any project that has a community or historical impact.

Do you have any favorite projects?

I’ve done three co-working spaces: TechTownSpaceLab Detroit, and then a concept for an art co-working space that hopefully gets built out in the next year. I like coworking spaces because I used to be a small business owner, and I feel like coworking spaces level the playing field for anybody starting a business. It gives you access to amenities that most small business owners who are bootstrapping can’t get, and it gives you a leg up.

A new favorite under construction now is Allied Media Projects. It is a four-story renovation to a warehouse building here in Detroit. The vision of the project is led by each of the tenants, who are all nonprofits.

Total accessibility for the building has been the focus of this renovation. They didn’t go straight for LEED certification but had sustainability, accessibility, and inclusive design in mind. I can’t wait for that project to be completed. It was just great working alongside an owner with a vision like that.

What initially sparked your interest in architecture?

It started with an interest in art and drawing, but I’ve found that along the way, there have been different things that led me to architecture without me even realizing it.

For instance, I visited a building that Nathan Johnson designed as a kid, and I was struck by the mid-century modern [design] and how he created this odd-shaped window without any structural kind of emphasis at this corner. And he completely framed out a view of the neighborhood.

What have been some of your biggest challenges on the road to becoming an architect?

It was tough not knowing a lot about the profession before heading into it in college. I didn’t have a mentor who could give me words of wisdom. My family was like, ‘Are you sure you want to be an architect? Nobody in our family is an architect.’ Though I didn’t have any support, I just went for it. And I’m lucky that I made it.

Why did you choose Noir Design Parti for your Knight Foundation submission?

Karen Burton and I had been talking about it for a long time. We always heard people say, ‘I didn’t know of any Black architects until I met you.’

But I came up through firms that were minority-owned. And I was like, how did they not know these people? I’ve also heard about Black architects from the trailblazing generations before me [who had] retired by the time I started to practice. So I was like, we have to get this out here because I don’t want to hear that anymore.

What have you enjoyed most about the project?

It’s been great seeing them highlighted and telling their stories. Just being the first of anything is history-making. Nathan Johnson started his practice in 1954 right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. There were only two or three architecture firms in the state of Michigan at that time that were Black—so that’s just remarkable to me.

We recently made it a focus of the project to write letters of recommendation for Black architects for AIA awards. So just to see these people get awards while they’re still living has really meant a lot to me.

Where do you see [this project] going in the future?

Now that we’ve gathered all this information, it needs to be archived [in] a place where people can look and learn about how Black architects did a lot of things against all odds. I’m also interested in getting a book done so we can have a print version of what we’ve been researching.

Have you been able to outline your priorities as Director of DEI at Quinn Evans?

Trying to figure out the pandemic and this position at the same time has been interesting. But one of the goals for this year is to come up with objectives for the position and the firm.

One of the things that got me very interested in Quinn Evans when we were talking about the acquisition was that, as of April of this year, Quinn Evans will be a woman-owned firm. A 200-person firm that’s woman-owned interested me three years ago, and to see it really come to light this year is going to be amazing. I think that’s going to be a great attraction for diversity when others hear about the big changeover in April.

Read the original interview here.

Categories: AIA Detroit News  

The Future of Practice: Interview with Imani Day of RVSN Studios

Pansy Schulman | Architectural Record

The Detroit-based architect puts her focus on socially conscious work.

As part of an ongoing interview series about the future of practice, RECORD is speaking to small firm-owners who are representative of the younger cohort of architects who are, both consciously and instinctively, trying to practice the business of architecture differently.

Imani Day, 32, graduated from Cornell University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Architecture. After working for Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Diller Scofidio + Renfro in New York, she moved to Detroit in 2015 to work for Gensler. Her firm, RVSN Studios, began as a part-time project in 2018, but in April of last year, Day formally left Gensler to focus on running her studio full time. Day has taught at the University of Detroit Mercy and Florida A&M University and will be starting a research fellowship at Cornell this fall. She serves on the executive boards of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and the AIA’s Detroit chapter. Day is the 13th Black woman to become a licensed architect in the state of Michigan and the 463rd in America.

Can you tell me about your time in school and coming up as an architect?

I came to Cornell in the summer of 2007, for a pre-college summer program for minority students. It helped me feel a little bit more comfortable on campus, but like any experience of coming to any predominantly white institution, it was a pretty strong shock to the system. Where I’m from in Montclair is a very diverse, liberal suburb of New York City. I don’t recall ever being the only person of color in the room. But at Cornell, I was one of maybe five or six Black students in my year.

I love Cornell, but nothing of my identity or my known history really ever showed up in the curriculum. My grandparents are civil rights activists and writers, who are so well versed and rooted in Black history. And I just never saw anyone who looked like me, which is common among Black architects.

Before starting your own firm, you worked at several large firms. How was that transition from academic to professional life?

The start of my career was really me trying to find my actual interest and grounding. I spent time working on cool projects, trying to find my voice, and navigating some of that imposter syndrome of: “Am I on the same page as everyone else?” “Can I keep up in conversations?” The most important career advice I’ve ever gotten came from Liz Diller. She told me to find my voice, use it very specifically, and be as vocal as possible. That was the beginning of me starting to talk about the disconnects I see in the industry.

What are the disconnects that stood out to you?

If you look at MASS Design Group, for example, many times people say they do really great, important work, but their business model isn’t replicable. Or that because they are doing it, let them do it, problem solved. There’s so much to be said about American Black issues that need to become a standard, normal part of how we practice as an industry. That was a huge missing link for me. I wasn’t really seeing other Black people working with me, or a Black client, which concerned me. And when I found myself working on some big museum project or someone’s lake house, I thought, well this is cool, but it’s very far from where I thought I would be.

Why did you decide to break off and start your own firm?

I started my own firm because there’s such a big gap in the industry for Black female architects, and a really big demand for clients who want to keep their funds and their work in the Black community. One part of that is being able to show up for the community, to know and understand the vulnerabilities and the historical traumas that come from white people in the industry damaging or erasing Black communities.

Good design can coexist with communities in need. It doesn’t mean that we have to sacrifice something along the way. We need to get better at understanding and reworking our systems in the industry so we can do this work better. That was something that I couldn’t do working for a firm; I really had to chew on this by myself and then find collaborators who are on the same page.

RVSN’s first project was the Lip Bar in 2018. How did that project come about?

I was just starting out with RVSN and honestly, the client, Melissa Butler, really took a leap of faith with me. It was small but a big marker in my career as an independent architect. I realized that there was actually going to be a supply and demand issue here. There are Black people and business owners all over America, but in Detroit particularly, there are young, hungry change agents in their community looking to work with someone like them, of which there are finite numbers. It is really a special opportunity and experience as a Black architect to be able to say that the majority of my clients are Black.

What kind of projects do you take on now and how has the scope of your practice expanded?

There’s a very clear thread in my brain of healing neighborhoods from the trauma of historical divesting. The work that I choose to take on typically has to have some socially progressive attitude. Almost all of my projects now are either multifamily or single residential in Detroit. We have a neighborhood project that is working to bring very simple concepts of health, wealth, agency, advocacy organizing, and enough resources into a neglected community. The commercial spaces are usually by these very fun, cool, young Black clients just trying to put resources in their neighborhoods. The first thing that I understood about Lip Bar, for example, was that there is a really big gap in representation in the beauty industry. People like me don’t necessarily see ourselves represented in the beauty industry; products are not made for us, the colors are not made for us. [The founders of Lip Bar] are change agents in the makeup industry.

RVSN is not architecture only; we do a lot of design-related projects, too. We just did a fun project creating a logo and graphic signature for a Black film company. A Black law firm in Chicago came to us for brand strategy. We’ve been collaborating with poets for hypothetical projects. We’re in our first year and a lot is in the works.

Do you have specific business practices that you’ve put into place in terms of your work environment and the expectations you set for your employees?

I have two employees—one is a student, and they’re both in entry-level positions. That number flexes into five other people that could be on a project at any point in time, but they’re all in. I don’t know that there’s a perfect business model for firms like us, but I think a lot of us are operating in a similar capacity where we call on each other project by project to see what is possible. I think I care the most about flexibility and people feeling like this is a good investment of their time. There’s still this pattern and habit that says anxiety and depression are good: “Stay here all night. I don’t care.” But there’s a lot to be learned from the generation coming into the workforce right now that actually wants their mental health to be respected. The power is coming back to the employee.

How do you see RVSN moving forward?

We’re so new. There’s a lot of room for input. I want to remain very open-minded. I think flexibility is going to be important, and I’m hoping and aiming to have this be something [my employees] are proud of what we’re building too. I know the work will come and I know that there’s plenty of work to be done in the neighborhoods and in the communities that I work in. I don’t see that there’s any shortage of ability to run the company and be profitable. It’s going to be about actually sustaining a good culture within the company—keeping people feeling empowered and able to make change in the company as well.

Read the original interview here.



Categories: AIA Detroit News  

New Renderings Released for Dan Gilbert’s Hudson’s Site Project in Detroit

JC Reindl | Detroit Free Press

Dan Gilbert’s real estate firm has released updated renderings of what its ambitious Hudson’s site development will look like once construction finishes in a few years.

The images were recently shared on the project’s website at

The development, 1208 Woodward Ave. downtown, broke ground in December 2017 and is still under construction. 

The project consists of two buildings: a skyscraper with luxury residences and a luxury hotel, and an 11-story mid-rise with more than 550,000 square feet of office space, exhibition space and ground-floor retail, according to the website.

The buildings are expected to be done in 2024, two years behind the project’s originally announced timeline.

On Wednesday, city officials approved a variance for the skyscraper’s upper-level floorplates, which Bedrock representatives said was needed because the tower’s floorplates will get increasingly smaller at higher levels.

Bedrock has yet to announce how many floors the skyscraper will have, although building permits last year put it at 49 floors and 680 feet in height. Early on, the tower was planned to soar 912 feet tall — overshadowing the 727-foot-tall Renaissance Center — but plans were downsized.

The skyscraper’s 100 to 120 luxury apartments and condos will begin at floor 26, and the 227-room hotel is to go below.

Bedrock has yet to announce the hotel brand. The Free Press reported last fall on the possibility of an ultra-luxury Edition Hotel in the skyscraper, and Crain’s Detroit, citing an anonymous source, recently reported that Edition Hotels last year signed an agreement for the site.

The Hudson’s site was once home to the massive J.L. Hudson department store, which closed in 1983 and was imploded in 1998.

Read the original article here.

Categories: Uncategorized  


Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

DETROIT (APRIL 22, 2022) -The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is excited to announce the Detroit Riverwalk has been named Best Riverwalk in the 2022 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards contest. It is the second year in a row that the Detroit Riverwalk has been recognized as the Best Riverwalk in the country.  

“We are thrilled to be voted number one for the second year in a row,” said Matt Cullen, board chairman of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “This is going to be a big year for us as we break ground on new projects, mark the completion of our East Riverfront vision and make plans for our 20-year anniversary in 2023, so it is incredibly rewarding to be able to celebrate the Best Riverwalk honor during this special year.” 

“The entire Detroit Riverfront Conservancy team is proud to be recognized again on this national level,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy “This honor is also very exciting because we are being recognized as the Best Riverwalk based on the votes submitted by people throughout our community who voted for us.  Detroiters love their riverfront.” 

Nominees for USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards were selected by10Best editors along with a panel of urban planning experts, but members of the general public voted for their favorites throughout the competition.  There were 20 Riverwalks across the country in the competition. Among the Riverwalks making the top 10 list were the Smale Riverfront Park (Cincinnati, Ohio); Wilmington Riverwalk (Wilmington, North Carolina); Waterfront Park (Louisville, Kentucky); San Antonio River Walk (San Antonio, Texas); Schuylkill River Trail (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Milwaukee RiverWalk (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Bricktown River Walk Park (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma); Mississippi Riverwalk (Dubuque, Iowa and Canal Walk (Indianapolis, Indiana). provides users with original, unbiased, and experiential travel content of top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for top destinations in the U.S. and around the world. 

The Detroit Riverfront attracts 3.5 million visitors annually.  The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has invested more than $200 million in the revitalization of the Detroit Riverfront, which in turn has generated more than $2 billion in public and private investment.  The Conservancy will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023.

Read the original article here.


Categories: AIA Detroit News  
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