2018 Recognition Award WInners
Gold Medal / Nathan Johnson
President | Nathan Johnson & Associates
The work of Nathan Johnson & Associates, an architecture firm that operated in Detroit from 1956 through the 1990’s, can be seen in nearly every district of Detroit. From private and multifamily residences, to schools, churches and restaurants, to correctional facilities and the city’s People Mover stations, Nathan Johnson is a prolific designer in Detroit’s built environment.
Nathan Johnson was born in 1925 in Herington, Kansas, a small town with a population of 3,500. His eighth-grade teacher, Roxy Frost, showed him a photo of California-based architect Paul Williams, the first African-American member of American Institute of Architects. Frost outlined the steps for Johnson to take to become an architect.
After graduating high school, Johnson spent 3-1/2 years in the United States Navy. Upon being honorably discharged, he enrolled at Kansas State University and graduated in 1943 with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and went on to take the architecture licensing exam in 1950.
When he couldn’t find work in his home state of Kansas, Johnson traveled to Detroit, where his sister lived. His first job in Detroit was with the Black-owned architecture firm of White & Griffin Architects-Engineers, where he earned $1.90 an hour working under Donald White, Michigan’s first Black architect. Johnson later went on to work with other firms in the city, including Victor Gruen and Associates, the developer of Northland and Eastland malls.
Johnson established his eponymous firm in I956, a tumultuous time in the civil rights movement. The practice began in the basement of his home on Lawrence Street with only two employees. In 1960, the firm moved to 2512 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, where it grew and eventually employed as many as 40 architects, designers, planners and technicians.
Johnson completed many projects in the mid-century modernist style of architecture: Second Baptist Church in Greektown and Bethel A.M.E. Church in Detroit; professional offices in the metro area; and many private residences. His Hong’s Mannia Café in the Baltimore Station area of Midtown Detroit is one of the few buildings in Michigan in the Googie architectural style.
A partial listing of Nathan Johnson & Associates, Inc.’s other projects include:
• Shed 5 at Eastern Market
• Restauranteur Stanley Hong’s home in Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood
• Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ (the former Greater Grace Temple)
• The $500,000 remodel of New Bethel Baptist Church in 1963
• Wayne State University Graduate/Faculty Housing (300 units)
• William Dickerson Detention Facility
• The $82.5 million, 1050-unit Detroit Regional Correctional Facility
• The 2,000 student Highland Park Community High School
• Passenger Stations and Maintenance Control Facility for the Detroit CATS (Central Automated Transit System) project, otherwise known as the Detroit People Mover.
In 1965, Johnson became the Detroit Board of Education’s first appointed African American Architect. He designed additions to Angell School and Redford High School, and new buildings for Loving Elementary School, Breithaupt Vocational Education School, and other facilities.
By the end of his career, Nathan Johnson was licensed to practice architecture in 13 states: Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.
Johnson was a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Michigan Society of Architects, and the National Organization of Minority Architects, which held its first national organizational meeting in his Detroit office. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Johnson’s board affiliations include: Board of Directors of the Kansas State University Alumni; a director for Detroit General Hospital; a commissioner and charter member for the Detroit Building Authority; a commissioner for the Detroit Historic District Commission and Wayne County Planning Commission; and a member of the Detroit Fire Appeals Board.
At age 93, Johnson still lives in Detroit and is in good health. He thanks God for his longevity and for the work he was able to do through his firm, and cheerfully recounts the details of his architectural work and his relationships with his employees and colleagues. An avid game hunter, he has made many trips to Africa, keeping a couple of his prizes at his home. When asked about the secret to his longevity, Johnson says he has a martini every day at 3pm – a tradition that began in his college years, when he and his classmates discovered that Frank Lloyd Wright did the same.
Young Architect Award / Najahyia Chinchilla, AIA
Architect, Project Manager | Gensler
A dedicated proponent of collaborative design processes, Najahyia Chinchilla, AIA, is an expert in the design of complex interdisciplinary projects. An associate at Gensler Detroit, Chinchilla is a trusted advisor to clients, not only fully integrating the client’s functional needs but also reflecting their missions and transforming the lives of users.
From corporate headquarters to community-based projects, Chinchilla sees design as an opportunity to create an inspiring and functional built environment accessible for all. She has served as an ambassador for Detroit, a UNESCO City of Design, by co-curating an exhibit for the 2017 Saint-Étienne Biennale and participated in the jury for Design Core’s 2018 Commerce Design: Detroit competition.
Chinchilla is deeply involved with AIA Detroit and has held a number of leadership positions throughout the chapter, including serving as Secretary and Associate Director on the AIA Detroit board, and chairing the 2016 Celebration of Architecture. She has also been a dedicated leader within Urban Priorities Committee and assisted with the 2014-2015 website redesign.
Supported by many thoughtful mentors throughout her young career, Chinchilla is eager to share her knowledge and create opportunities for others. As a minority who grew up in Detroit and a woman in a historically male-dominated profession, she hopes to be an inspiration and foster a culture of encouragement for the profession. Chinchilla has been a guest critic at both Detroit Mercy’s and Lawrence Tech’s Schools of Architecture, often invites high school students to Gensler’s office for tours and career exploration, and actively participates in CREW’s (Commercial Real Estate Women Detroit) Careers event.
Charles Blessing Award / Dan Pitera, FAIA
Executive Director | Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Dan Pitera, FAIA, is a political and social activist masquerading as an architect. He is the Executive Director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, which received the AIA National's 2017 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award and was included in the 2017 Curry Stone Design Award’s Social Design Circle. Dan co-led the Civic Engagement process for the Detroit Works Project Long Term Planning in 2010. On January 9, 2013, Long Term Planning team released its decision-making framework titled: Detroit Future City. DCDC’s engagement process was included in the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum’s exhibition: By The People, and the DCDC’s Roaming Table has been added to the Smithsonian Institute’s permanent collection.
Mr. Pitera was a 2004-2005 Loeb Fellow at Harvard University and was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2010, an honor bestowed to only 3% of all American architects. Under his direction since 2000, the Design Center won the 2011 and 2002 Dedalo Minosse International Prize and was included in the US Pavilion of the 2008 and 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture. The Center was awarded the 2011 SEED Award and the 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Design Excellence for the St. Joseph Rebuild Center in New Orleans. The Design Center was the recipient of the NCARB Prize in 2002 and 2009 and was included in the international exhibit/conference ArchiLab in 2001 and 2004 in Orleans, France. Mr. Pitera is regularly a resource member for the Mayor’s Institute for City Design (MICD). He has co-authored the book, “Syncopating the Urban Landscape: More People, More Programs, More Geographies” and co-edited the book, “Activist Architecture: The Philosophy and Practice of the Community Design Center”.
He likes “fallout shelter” yellow…
Associate Award / Samantha Szeszulski, Associate AIA
Architectural Designer | Stantec
Sami Szeszulski has been a passionate member of the Stantec Detroit team for over two years, focusing her time there on architectural design, programming, and planning. She received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Lawrence Technological University in 2013 and Masters of Architecture from the University of Detroit Mercy in 2016. After completing her bachelors degree, she was selected to participate in the Challenge Detroit Fellowship program from over 700 applicants from across the country. She was awarded the Grace Lee Boggs Award for Public Interest Design for her graduate thesis research. Sami is also a past recipient of the AIA Michigan Student Project Award and the Women in Architecture Fund Emerging Professional Inspiration Award, both in 2015.
Sami’s dedication to furthering the profession extends well beyond her work at Stantec. Sami is currently the AIA Michigan Associate Director and sits on the AIA National Associates Committee. She has previously served as the AIA Detroit Emerging Professionals Committee Chair, as the Chair of the Lawrence Tech College of Architecture and Design Alumni Cabinet, and in various other roles with the AIA. Sami is passionate about community focused design, participatory design practices, equity, diversity, and inclusion issues within the profession, and supporting the professional development of other emerging professionals in architecture.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Douglas Barron, Honorary Affiliate AIAD
Owner | DJ Barron LLC
Douglas Barron is the owner of DJ Barron LLC, a Michigan based firm representing building envelope products for ProSoCo, York Manufacturing, GP DensElement and LymTal. His firm celebrated 27 years of service this past April. Douglas inherently understands that the customer is the single most valuable asset of an organization and is dedicated to the ideals of a customer-driven focus.
Douglas is currently involved with the following organizations:
>2011 to Present, Building Enclosure Council of Great Detroit (BEC-GD), 2017-18 Chair
>2009 to Present, Masonry Institute of Michigan (MIM), Board Member
>2008 to Present, International Concrete Restoration Institute (ICRI), Treasurer
Douglas is also involved with the MIM, Generic Wall Design Committee, American Concrete Institute, Michigan Masonry Contractors Association and the International Masonry Institute.
When Douglas is not working, you will find him painting in his art studio or En Plein Air.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Jeanette Pierce, Honorary Affiliate AIAD
Founder | Detroit Experience Factory
Jeanette Pierce is a social entrepreneur and lifelong city resident who grew up in the Morningside neighborhood on the east side of Detroit. She has a bachelor's of arts degree in communication from Acquinas College, and has been walking to work since she moved to downtown Detroit in 2003.
In 2006, while working at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, she founded a grassroots nonprofit that used tours and experiences to take people beyond the headlines and educate them about Detroit's history, culture and community. Today that organization has evolved into the Detroit Experience Factory which operates the only Detroit Welcome Center and creates eye-opening experiences and innovative resources that connect locals and visitors to Detroit's people, places, and projects. Over 95,000 people have taken a tour in the last 12 years to learn about Detroit's assets, small businesses, historic neighborhoods, city planning & development policies and innovative solutions to the challenges the city faces.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Dean Zoyes, Honorary Affiliate AIAD
Vice-President | Zoyes Creative Group
Dean Zoyes has over 20 years’ experience providing creative design solutions and communications for developers, architects, and builders throughout Metro Detroit and around the country. As vice-president of Zoyes Creative Group, Dean manages client relationships for the model making, 3D printing, and environmental graphics output, and provides thought-leadership for the 7-member team he oversees out of the 15-member team.
Inspired by his desire to make models for the Architecture and Construction industry, Dean Zoyes formed Zoyes East, Inc in 1995 in Detroit, Michigan. The singular focus of making models was soon broadened to a wider array of services. By fusing the model shop with other related services of renderings, animations, laser cutting, and 3D printing, Dean turned ZEI into a full-service imaging team, capable of multiple levels of visualization for the construction industry. Dean and his team of Architectural designers, renderers, and model makers have been working diligently providing a high level of realism, while adding greater meaning to all of their visualization work.
In 2009 Dean merged ZEI his wife’s marketing agency, forming Zoyes Creative Group. Aimee’s creative agency focused on a clientele in the design-build industries as well. The combined strength of the two firms is undeniable.
Currently the merged entity, Zoyes Creative Group, employs thought leaders, branding specialists, web designers, graphics professionals, model makers, industrial designers, architectural illustrators, dedicated CAD operators, and passionate craftsmen--all of them unified by a desire to take the firm to the next level.
For the past two-decades Zoyes Creative Group has not only contributed renderings, animations & architectural models, but also branding, identity work, collateral design, website design & development. The combined teams focus on environmental and experiential design for numerous residential, commercial and mixed-use developments in Southeast Michigan and around the country.
Dean is an active member of the greater metropolitan design community, and has been a planning partner for the AIA Detroit’s PechaKucha Night for 5 years. Dean is an active participant in the planning and sponsorship of their quarterly events.