Blog: Dennis King

Dennis King, FAIA, is our guest blogger this week.  Dennis is the President of the American Institute of Architects Michigan, which is currently celebrating its 150-year sesquicentennial.  He is also Chairman and CEO of Harley Ellis Devereaux , an award-winning, full-service organization offering a complete range of planning, architecture, engineering, interior architecture, landscape architecture and construction services.

Check back here each weekday to read Dennis’ thoughts on National Architecture Week (Apr. 9-14), how design and architecture reflect the creative soul of our community and the profound impact it can have on quality of life. 

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Post No 5

Why is "Cool" Cool?

It was amazing just how fast the Governor's Cool Cities Initiative took off a few years back. So why was it that "cool" turned out to be so cool? Maybe it was just the playful reference that resonated with so many people. Maybe it was some deep-seated desire by the baby-boom generation to return to its youth when "cool" was cool. While both of those ideas may be accurate to some degree, there is much more substance to the entire matter.

As towns across our State have faced increasingly complex issues of sustainability, abandonment, new development, and tight budget crises, civic leaders, politicians and others of influence have searched for different ways to recapture the livable communities that they recall from their childhoods.

"Cool" captures the imagination through a surprisingly simple metaphor. You can create your own definition – picture your own vision. From the designer's perspective, however, "cool" is not an accident of urban chaos. It must be defined, created and nurtured through purposeful planning.

The American Institute of Architects has six essential elements that it believes can be applied to most new and existing environments:

  • Create a Sense of Place – Develop a plan to enhance desirable qualities that are essential to a district.
  • Allow Mixed-Use Development – Include a variety of uses within walkable distances.
  • Increase Density – Foster lively streets through various levels of nearby housing.
  • Provide Regional Transportation – Connect communities through coordinated networks.
  • Offer Street-Savvy Design – Ensure a pedestrian-friendly public realm with an attractive and interesting ambiance.
  • Instill a Sense of Personal Security – Sensitive design can improve public safety in unobtrusive ways.

As it turns out, design professionals, like AIA architects, are trained to assist civic leaders in identifying and designing these distinctive features of "cool" environments. But we cannot achieve this goal unless we work together.

Post No. 4

One D and the Big C

I'm a Leadership Detroit Grad (1984) and ex-LD Trustee. Periodically, we LD alums gather to network and reminisce, and listen to a topical speaker. Recently, we were treated to the visionary words of Edsel B. Ford, II as he unveiled the emerging One D initiative: Transforming Regional Detroit. Now that was a refreshing presentation.

By now, almost everyone should have heard at least a little bit about One D. Six significant Southeast Michigan business and civic organizations have decided to pool their resources in an alliance aimed at working toward real cooperative change in our Metropolitan Detroit Region. The six are: the Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit Renaissance, New Detroit, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, United Way of Southeastern Michigan and the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan.

The obvious key to the Big D for everyone is regional collaboration (the Big C). This is not a new topic. In fact, it has been a central theme at the Detroit Regional Chamber' s annual Mackinac Leadership Conference for as long as I can remember. But thus far, it has only been talk. Unfortunately, following the Chamber' s annual Grand Hotel soiree, our region' s political leaders return home to the realities of win-lose competition. Enough is enough!

SEMCOG just released the chilling news that we are in for ten more years of declining population for our region. The time has clearly arrived for serious regional collaboration. Not just cooperation – but serious collaboration. Not just a willingness – but action.

Big D is on the right track. We must support it. We must demand that our political representatives pay attention and take action. If not, I guess that I can just spend more of my time in my Chicago and Los Angeles offices.

Post No. 3

Making Communities Livable

In case you missed it, last week, April 9-14, was the first ever-official National Architecture Week. It marked the sesquicentennial commemoration of April 15, 1857, when 13 New York City architects filed a certificate of incorporation stating that their aims were to, "unite in fellowship the architects of this continent and to combine their efforts to promote the artistic, esthetic, scientific and practical efficiency of the profession." This was the start of The American Institute of Architects.

Today, AIA architects are becoming important advocates for creating communities that are more livable. Our public policy statement on the issue notes, "Architecture profoundly affects people. The work of architects is essential to human well being, and architects must embrace their ethical obligation to uphold this public trust." In other words, if cities in Michigan are to flourish, we must embrace the architect's role and take into consideration issues of urban design, housing options, historic preservation, energy efficiency and sustainability, density and identity, transportation and human scale – not just political agendas.

To that end, all this year, AIA architects throughout Michigan are performing "pro bono" community design and planning initiatives called, "A Blueprint for America." These community-based and professionally-led grassroots efforts around our region will plant the seeds of change for more livable environments and revitalization in the future.

Locally, AIA Detroit has implemented an initiative called "Neighborhoods by Design." This three-part charrette process took place this winter and provided AIA architects with the opportunity to engage with fellow citizens, mayors, community and business leaders, architecture students, local government officials and other stakeholders to collaborate in addressing the distinct needs of our communities.

Our goal is to take the results from this event and produce a shared vision for a more livable future that includes a long-term plan for community redevelopment, civic engagement, regional collaboration and legislative advocacy, utilizing architects as leaders, trained problem solvers and team builders for communities. This vision will be presented in the form of a dynamic, highly visual booklet that will be distributed to communities throughout southeastern Michigan.

To learn more about this and other AIA Design Assistance Team Programs and its 10 Principles for Livable Communities, please visit AIA Center for Communities by Design web site at

Post No 2

Reflections from a Detroit Guy

I was born in Detroit's "New" Grace Hospital in 1946. I'm an official Baby Boomer. That hospital building has long since been torn down.

As a teen growing up in Northwest Detroit, my buddies and I took the bus Downtown on Saturdays and roamed around Hudson's just for fun. The elevators had white-gloved operators. We also watched the construction of Cobo Hall.

While following the construction of the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Tower at the foot of Woodward, we became card-carrying members of their "Sidewalk Superintendents' Club," where we dined on free doughnuts in the comfort of a glass-walled, two-story observation trailer.

In later years, I apprenticed as an intern-architect during the day at a firm located in Detroit's Lafayette Park. In the evenings, I was the proprietor of a billiard parlor just across West Grand Boulevard from the Fisher Building. Those were the days.

So, I've been here, through the great times and hey-days of the late 50's, through the endless cyclical ups and downs and not-so-great times when the phrase, "will the last one out please turn off the lights," was a pretty common statement. But you know, it's always felt like home to me.

It's true what they say. Detroiters have a sense of determination and a sense of humor. We have people with outstanding creative and technical talent. We have affordable housing. We have plenty of fresh water. I'm still here. The others will return.

Post No. 1

Design Matters

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. 

Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."

Noted Chicago architect and urban planner Daniel Hudson Burnham uttered this famous quote over a century ago. It came at a time in our history when American architects were searching for their own design style – an important American statement that good design could be truly uplifting to the human spirit and beneficial to our communities.

That mission remains for us architects to this day. Design does matter, and it appears that society may again be awakening to the excitement and sensuality that good design offers to our buildings and cities. In fact, this week, April 9-14, is the first official National Architecture Week.  Design excellence can be the true foundation of a great public building, a successful business enterprise or an entire healthy neighborhood.  Creating identity, providing choices, preserving urban centers, protecting the environment, and strengthening the public building infrastructure are all principles of good design.

Most importantly, good design does not have to cost more. Sensitive design solutions executed on a tight budget have proven to offer some of the most elegant design ideas and solutions. These well-designed structures are also usually more enduring, longer lasting and simply more fun to be in.

For this reason, we, as architects, are celebrating the sesquicentennial of the American Institute of Architects this year and continue to beat Daniel Burnham’s drum.

Design matters! Tell your colleagues, your elected representatives, your neighbors and your children. Well, maybe your children already know this.

The mission of AIA Michigan is to serve its membership, advance the values of the profession and improve the quality of the built environment.  This year, AIA Michigan celebrates its 150-year sesquicentennial, AIA150.  For more information on The American Institute of Architects Michigan, please visit

Photograph © Dave Krieger
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