2019 Recognition Award WInners
Gold Medal / Elisabeth Knibbe, FAIA
Principal | Quinn Evans Architects
For 40 years, Elisabeth Knibbe (Lis) has reinvigorated landmarks, connected people to communities, and lead with creativity and strength. She pioneered the use of historic preservation as an essential economic development tool to fund projects that have built the foundations for Detroit’s resurgence.
Lis began working in Detroit with restoration work at the old Wayne County Building and Fox Theater in the 1980s. Since then, she designed countless projects that capitalize on the potential of buildings to strengthen the fabric of the community. From the adaptive use of long-vacant buildings, the renewal of architectural landmarks, to new infill design projects, she has been involved with projects that have led the field in reviving Detroit’s neighborhoods in Midtown, Downtown, and Southwest. Her portfolio includes the adaptive use of four dilapidated houses into the boutique Inn at Ferry Street that led to the rebirth of the Ferry Street historic district. At the Garden Theater Block on Woodward, new buildings respect adjacent historic buildings (including the landmark Garden Theater). At Woodward and Willis, a new office building explores the potential to re-establish the urban fabric with contemporary architecture. Her renewal of the McGregor Reflecting Pool and Sculpture Gardens faithfully restored a mid-century modern masterpiece central to the WSU campus. Lis’s recent work at the Wurlitzer and Metropolitan Buildings honors the early 20th century quality of craftsmanship and originality of design and links both to the future. Both transformations evoke optimism and economic opportunity while supporting the holistic lifestyle defining the future of Detroit. Her current work for Ford at the iconic Michigan Central Station will continue her legacy of strengthening Detroit’s neighborhoods and advancing urban redevelopment with creative design.
Young Architect Award / Laura Walker, AIA, NOMA
Design Architect | SmithGroup
Laura Walker has spent her architectural and art life pushing, provoking, and designing in and around Detroit. She has experience at all scales and scopes, from design-build fabrication, to tactical urban design intervention, to wall murals, and commissioned canvas paintings. She is currently employed at the national architecture and engineering firm SmithGroup. Her specific focus is to instill spatial agency through inclusive design and to challenge the role of the ‘Architect’ in order to construct social, cultural, and political change. She designs with empathetic perception to thread together ethical and socio-political concerns with experiential and aesthetic effects. Her work considers the potential for meaningful impact in order to extend beyond space design to reach communities and constituencies through building narratives of inclusive, interconnected and equitable design.
As a commissioned artist, she has brought artwork into the design of spaces, both her own and that of local artists. She sees the architectural undertaking as an opportunity to leverage the robust creative capital in Detroit. With this inclusive process comes an awareness for who is being represented in design. Whether it’s students, staff, community members, or tenants, she intentionally advocates for having everyone at the table that is impacted by the decisions being made.
Ultimately, she desires to humanize design, both the process as a production of culture, and its outcome through built projects. She serves as a Coach through SmithGroup’s Coaching initiative, and strives for a culture of knowledge sharing, support, and collaboration. She helps develop this culture by serving on the Board of the National Organization of Minority Architects, where she elevates and celebrates underrepresented persons. She frequently serves as a design juror at Lawrence Tech University and University of Detroit Mercy to contribute to the education of ethical design in students.
Charles Blessing Award / Mark Nickita, FAIA
President | Archive DS
Mark Nickita, FAIA, co-founded the multi-disciplinary design firm Archive DS in 1991. As a nationally known architect, urbanist and city builder, his award-winning firm has distinct expertise in the development, enhancement and the regeneration of existing, pedestrian-oriented urban environments. These include downtowns, neighborhoods, developed corridors, mixed-use areas and underutilized districts of post-industrial cities. Born and raised in the westside Detroit neighborhood of Warrendale, he has had a lifelong goal and specific focus on the reestablishement and enhancement of Detroit.
As president of his firm, Archive DS, Mr Nickita has designed many institutional and mixed-use buildings within the urban context. These include adaptive-reuse, historic rehabilitation and new infill buildings as well as educational facilities, loft housing, office and retail projects, typically located on challenging urban sites that require unique design solutions. His particular experience is within urban areas challenged by decay and abandonment, and the uncovering their potential. For over three decades, he has been a leader in the redevelopment of areas within the City of Detroit, from the far east side to Corktown, Southwest, New Center, Islandview, Midtown, Jefferson East, Palmer Park, Eastern Market, and in the downtown core. He has completed countless architectural and urban design projects that have contributed to the rebirth of the city.
With a lifelong passion for global urban study, Mr. Nickita has resided and traveled to over 400 major cities in 30 countries, on 4 continents, in order to better understand architecture, design and urban issues. Walking the streets, interviewing people, taking extensive photographs, sketching and note taking, all of which create the basis for a genuine understanding of what works and does not work in diverse urban conditions. He brings this experience and understanding to each of his projects.
Mr. Nickita has been elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, it highest honor, and has won the AIA Detroit Gold Medal of Honor, the AIA Detroit Young Architect Award, and the AIA Michigan Young Architect Award. He was also the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Lawrence Technological University and was selected as a member of the Crain's Detroit Business Magazine's 40 under 40 business leaders in Detroit.
Beyond his work at Archive DS, Mr. Nickita participates in a variety of civic activities and public and professional service. In 2009, he was elected to the Birmingham, Michigan City Commission, one of the most walkable small cities in the USA (Wall Street Journal, 2010 - 5th most walkable U.S. suburb). He has served two terms as Birmingham Mayor (2011-12+2016-17) and was a member of the Planning Board for over ten years including time as Chairman. Mr. Nickita’s other involvement includes: Past President of AIA Detroit and member of the Michigan AIA Board of Directors, member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Congress for the New Urbanism, Lawrence Technological University Alumni Association and Woodward Avenue Transit Task Force among numerous other Board and Committee positions.
Additionally, Mr. Nickita is a co-owner of entrepreneurial ventures in development as well as multiple urban retail establishments (Pure Detroit, Enjoy Michigan, WORKSHOP and Vera Jane) and European-style cafes (Rowland Cafe and Stella Cafes). All of his work encompasses the goal of building better cities for people.
Associate Award / Tiffany Brown, Associate AIA, NOMA
Project Manager | SmithGroup
Tiffany has extensive experience in architectural design, construction management, and construction administration. She is currently employed as a Project Manager at national architecture and engineering firm SmithGroup, and is also faculty at LTU’s College of Architecture and Design. Tiffany is also a member of the K-12 Working Group of the American Institute of Architects, serves on the Executive Board of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and is also on the Champions Board of the National Girls Collaborative.
Tiffany has spearheaded raising awareness on how representation in design makes a significant social impact on firm practice, culture, and education. Her expertise stems from first-hand experiences of addressing environmental injustices and social issues. Tiffany is a thought leader who uses her story as a tool of empowerment. Tiffany was recently awarded a grant by The Knight Foundation to launch 400 Forward, a program aimed to support the education and career development of the next 400 women architects with an underlying focus on African American girls.
Associate Award / Bryce Gamper, Associate AIA
Bryce has over eight years’ experience in design and the built environment, and a dedication to the growth of the city of Detroit. In the association, Bryce’s active involvement in the AIA spans over a decade. His participation has led him to positions as Co-Chair for the AIAD Urban Priorities Committee, and to serve as the AIAD Associate Director for 2017 and 2018.
In his director position, Bryce plugged in heavily to the Emerging Professionals committee to understand the needs and voice of the chapter’s associate membership. This involvement and dedication led to the launch of the nationally recognized Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program (CKLDP) in the city. Bryce served as the co-chair for two years of the program - tailoring it alongside his co-chair to be Detroit specific. The program is now going into its 3rd year in and was opened to the full state for applications in 2019.
Outside of the AIA, Bryce has pursued alternative ways of merging his architectural talents with service to the Detroit community. As an inaugural fellow in the Challenge Detroit program, Bryce worked to serve non-profits throughout the city of Detroit - his work within this program, and collaboration with groups like the DCDC at the University of Detroit Mercy, assisted in the implementation of the annual Light Up Livernois event (including the events original branding), which has now been incorporated into the yearly Detroit Design Festival.
Bryce has a formal background in architecture, studying his profession at Lawrence Technological University. Currently working in commercial design - he is part of a dedicated team of designers who create the next generation of inspiring office spaces. Major clients have included Bedrock Detroit, Quicken Loans, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Eastern Market Corporation, Gardner White, the Hershey’s Company, and Sleep Number.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Connie Lilley, Honorary Affiliate AIAD, MBA, LEED AP
Director | Detroit 2030 District
Connie Lilley is the Director for the Detroit 2030 District (District). The District is a nonprofit organization which assists building owners & managers in Detroit with reducing energy and water usage in commercial buildings, GHG emissions from transportation, as well as other important sustainability initiatives.
Connie was one of the main forces in bringing a 2030 District to Detroit. In the last two year’s since it’s launch Connie has signed on 19 million square feet of commercial buildings into the program working toward the District’s goals.
To help lead the organization, Connie created a local Advisory Council and currently manages several committees of volunteers for the District. She has implement several special programs including the Ambassador Program, Houses of Worship Green Team and Venues/Museums Best Practices Group. Her program has increased collaboration opportunities with like-minded organizations, municipalities and businesses to work together to create a District of high-performance and healthy buildings, leading to a more sustainable Detroit.
Connie has been working & volunteering within the commercial built environment for over 25 years, with the last 14 years focusing on energy efficiency and sustainability. She currently serves on the Energy Waste Reduction Committee for the City of Detroit Green Task Force. Over the course of her career, she has served on several industry committees including BOMA and IFMA and the National Association of Women in Construction, Detroit Chapter. She also served on the board for the U.S. Green Building Council, Detroit Chapter and Green School Committee where she implemented the My Green School Art Contest.
Connie has received two awards from the National Women in Construction Detroit Chapter for being a green/sustainable leader. She is a LEED AP, O & M and holds a Master’s of Business Administration with a focus on Corporate Sustainability as well as a Bachelor of Science in Journalism/ Public Relations.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Melanie Piana, Honorary Affiliate AIAD
COO | Jefferson East, Inc.
Melanie Piana is an experienced and passionate community champion. She believes in the power of local government to enhance our lives. She blends her expertise in urban planning and economic development, placemaking, transportation, innovative public policy, and nonprofit management to create more equitable and inclusive places. Melanie works at the neighborhood, city, regional and state level for Michigan. Her national perspective, statewide advocacy and local experience has helped incubate, launch and transform organizations and programs that better serve residents and businesses. She has worked with over 40 communities across Metro Detroit in her professional capacity and represented Michigan cities as the former board president of the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees.
As an urbanist and strategist, Melanie has worked with several nonprofit community advocacy organizations including Jefferson East, Inc., where she serves as the Chief Operating Officer, to further revitalization efforts in Detroit neighborhoods, and has worked at the Downtown Detroit Partnership and Michigan Suburbs Alliance. Prior to transitioning to urban development, Melanie worked in the corporate environment for advertising and interactive marketing agencies in the automotive industry.
Melanie is a former three-term city councilwoman in Ferndale, Michigan and currently running for Ferndale Mayor in the November 2019 election. She obtained a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from Wayne State University, Bachelors of Arts in Communications and German from Albion College, and is a Certified Project Manager Professional (PMP) through the Project Management Institute. In 2018, Melanie received the SEMCOG Taubman Fellowship to attend the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Leadership Training for State and Local Government. She currently serves as Board Chair for the Oakland County Public Transportation Authority. Melanie is a global citizen, loves to travel and ride her bike.
Honorary Affiliate Award / Barb Silber, Honorary Affiliate AIAD
Account Manager | Fantasee Lighting
Barb has always been interested in music, behind-the-scenes-technologies, and pop culture.
Makes sense then that she worked for Brass Ring Productions upon graduation from MSU, until their closing in 2001, as Production Manager. Barb graduated Cum Laude and is continues to be a voracious Spartan supporter.
Born in Detroit, always staying in the metropolitan area she loves, Barb has been an account manager with Fantasee Lighting since 2004, after travelling the tradeshow circuit, managing events from Toledo to Beijing, from “World of Concrete to “Big Show at the Joe.”
As Account Manager at Fantasee Lighting, Barb and her team provide undivided/endless attention, offering solutions for lighting and rigging specifications, some more challenging than others. It’s the joy of supplying the most appropriate, cost-effective option to every project that keeps Barb going, after nearly 40 years in “the business.”
Barb is a huge nature lover, who enjoys hiking, estate sales, and travel.