Thom Danckaert, Lead Design Architect with Progressive AE, has been named Young Architect of the Year by AIA Michigan. Thom, who recently won AIA Grand Rapids’ Young Architect Award, will be honored at the Design and Honor Awards banquet on Friday, June 10.

The AIA Michigan Young Architect Award recognizes proficiency and exceptional contributions to the profession by young licensed architects. Nominees of the award must demonstrate exceptional accomplishment in the profession, dedication to the ideals of AIA Michigan, contributions to the profession and service to the community.

We sat down with Thom to congratulate him on his award and talk a little about the honor.

What does it mean to have been name this year’s recipient of the Young Architect Award?

Thom Danckaert: To be nominated and to win this award is very humbling. I feel extremely honored to be counted among some very talents architects that have won this award in the past, including our very own Bryan Koehn (Progressive AE’s Director of Design).

Thom Danckaert
Thom Danckaert with his AIA Grand Rapids Young Architect of the Year Award. Thom will receive AIA Michigan’s Young Architect Award on June 10.

How long have you been a member of AIA and what does the organization do?

TD: I have been a member of the AIA for as long as I can remember. I was first a member of the American Institute of Architecture Students, or AIAS, and then joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA) immediately after graduating college as an Associate member back in 2001. The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural profession and a resource for its members in service to society.

You’ve been an architectural designer with Progressive AE for 12 years. What have been some of your favorite (or most interesting) projects you’ve had the opportunity to work on?

TD: Some of my favorite projects to work on have included the Steelcase Learning and Exploration Center and WorkLab, the John Ball Zoo Master Plan and Treehouse, Saint Mary’s Hospital, and the Mary Free Bed YMCA.

What’s your favorite memory from your years with Progressive AE?

TD: One of my favorite memories from my years with Progressive AE was when the design group spent an evening fabricating and installing the Pixel installation involving the manipulation of standard sheet metal flashing to create something new and beautiful. It was fun to work as a team and to install something that changed people’s perception of space using a very standard material.

Pixel ArtPrize installation
The Progressive AE design team works on the installation of Pixel, an art exhibit for Grand Rapid’s ArtPrize competition.

Have you always known you wanted to be an architect? If not, what else were you interested in doing?

TD: I always wanted to be an architect. If not that, I would have liked to design and engineer motorcycles. They are a secret passion of mine.

What is about architecture, design and the process of creating a new space that you enjoy so much?

TD: I love architecture, it’s part of my DNA. The design process and creating new space that can impact the way people live, work and play is extremely rewarding and challenging. Each project is unique and offers an opportunity to create something innovative and to build a new relationship based on trust and intimacy. It is our responsibility to be our clients’ advocates and to bring design leadership/ expertise to give them a human-centric space that positively impacts them.

Do you have a design philosophy you apply to each project? If so, how did you develop the philosophy?

TD: My design philosophy has evolved over time. When I first started in architecture, my philosophy was simply to design great spaces. Now, I seek to design spaces that are truly human-centric; to craft places that improve the way people live, work and play. This is a great responsibility and one that requires empathy as well as the ability to build trusting relationships.

When you’re not thinking at work, what are some things you like to do in your spare time?

TD: In my spare time, I like to spend time with my wife, Pam, my daughters, Isabella and Anneliese and the rest of my family; to travel and see new places; and to explore the world through photography. I also like to read, volunteer at my church and with the AIA Grand Rapids Chapter, and teach at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Thom and his wife, Pam, enjoy a sun-filled vacation.
Thom and his wife, Pam, enjoy a sun-filled vacation.