A Human Approach to Architecture

This post is part of a series we'll be featuring about the perspectives at Quinn Evans and how they shape our approach to projects and how we deliver value for clients.


Do you know your history? Historical landscape Architect Stephanie Austin, ASLA, sure does.

For seven years, Stephanie worked at University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, where she gained valuable experience studying historical documents and exploring archival research. It’s through first-hand accounts and historical publications that we are able to more clearly understand life at the time and truly work to preserve history.

Years later, Stephanie still approaches projects at Quinn Evans through this lens. She tracks down information about historic sites in order to inform design choices, ensure that she and the team fully understand the space, its history, and how living communities value it.

“My job is really focused on historic and cultural landscapes that are associated with not only historical events, but living cultural groups,” Stephanie explains.

Her work has spanned national parks, state parks, city properties, and other sites that have an important historical or cultural association.

“I’m most proud of my work when our team can help reconnect people to places that are important both to their history and living communities,” Stephanie says.

Stephanie has worked on projects involving battlefields on American soil and wades through historic accounts to get the lay of the land.

“By listening and by really digging into the history of a site,” Stephanie says, “we come up with creative solutions that are well justified and rationalized.”

One such project was the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Michigan. At the Battle of the River Raisin during the War of 1812, soldiers described entering a forest to seek cover from a ranged weapon. A few centuries later, as Quinn Evans was working on the River Raisin Cooperative Land Management Plan, Stephanie used accounts like these to help reconstruct what the landscape would have looked like at the time.

The practice, Stephanie says, involves a careful weighing of the qualitative and the quantitative. “It’s more art than math,” she explains.

A diversity of experiences and perspectives is foundational to Quinn Evans, emphasized Principal Jennifer Henriksen, AIA, who is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and focuses mainly on preservation that contributes to the renewal of urban neighborhoods and heritage sites.

“I don’t think we can be responsible to our clients by approaching our work with a single viewpoint,” says Henriksen. “I don’t think we can grow as individuals by continuously repeating a single viewpoint.”

For Quinn Evans team member Kemba Braynon, AIA, NOMA, that viewpoint lies in her background in the writing and publishing spaces. Prior to joining the Quinn Evans Detroit office, she worked for the City of Detroit, writing and administering grants to preserve some of the city’s iconic historic buildings. Her last grant project before joining Quinn Evans was an assessment to restore the Nancy Brown Carillon Tower on Belle Isle, which Quinn Evans was leading. The rest is history.

“I had already been considering a move back to the private sector,” Kemba says. Her background in writing and historic preservation sparked her interest in what Quinn Evans was doing. “I mentioned this to the project architect from Quinn Evans, and the next day I received a phone call from one of the principals inviting me in for an interview.”

Kemba knows that diversity of perspectives and experiences is critical to every field, especially architecture.

“We can’t expect to design spaces that are responsive to all if we are only designing through one lens and set of experiences,” she says.

Having people with backgrounds that aren’t strictly architecture-based expands the way that Quinn Evans approaches projects. “It’s a different type of design process,” Stephanie notes, “but ultimately creativity is a big part of it.”

What comes next?

We are looking forward to sharing more about the perspectives and people at Quinn Evans in the coming months, featuring unique projects that fall outside of the expected realm of traditional architecture. We hope you’ll tune back in!