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Founded by U-M Grads 40 Years Ago, Quinn Evans Receives AIA’s Architecture Firm Award, Celebrates Opening of Michigan Central Station

On the same week it was honored with the 2024 Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, Quinn Evans celebrated the opening of the iconic Michigan Central Station. The firm spent more than a decade transforming the Detroit landmark from a symbol of decay into a hub of innovation.

This major achievement aligns with the ethos of Quinn Evans, which was founded in 1984 by two University of Michigan-trained architects, Michael Quinn, M.Arch ’74, and David Evans, M.Arch ’72. The pair set out to establish a preservation architecture firm dedicated to community revitalization, sustainable design, and employee success. The prestigious AIA honor recognizes 40 years of notable architecture and notes that Quinn Evans was one of the first firms “to demonstrate that sustainable design can and must be incorporated into existing and historic buildings.”

Portrait of Larry BarrAlong the way, Quinn Evans stayed true to its roots. Architects trained at U-M’s Taubman College have been well-represented in the firm’s workforce ever since Quinn and Evans hired Larry Barr, B.S. ’80, M.Arch. ‘82, as the first employee in their Washington, D.C., office in 1984.

Barr said the firm employs 32 U-M graduates with architecture degrees. Three of those graduates who played a key role in the Michigan Central Station rehabilitation were Richard Hess, M.Arch ’03, as principal in charge; Jennifer Henriksen, B.S. Arch ’95, as preservation architect; and Angela Wyrembelski, B.S. Arch ’07, as preservation architect. Michigan Central Station, now owned by Ford Motor Co., reopened to the public on June 6.

Quinn Evans has also hired many Taubman College student interns through the years. In addition, several of the firm’s retired principals – Steve Jones, M.Arch. ’82; Elisabeth Knibbe, B.S. ’76, M.U.P. ’78, M.Arch. ’78; Ilene Tyler, B.Arch. ’70; and Rob Comet, M.Arch. ’78 – went to U-M. And three of the nine people on the Quinn Evans board of directors are U-M grads: Barr, Hess, and Katie Slattery, M.Arch ’03. The board members accepted the AIA award in Washington, D.C., on June 6.

What do Taubman College graduates bring to the table? Barr, a principal and former CEO at Quinn Evans, said a strong work ethic, problem-solving skills, and creative thinking are attributes he’s seen from the college’s graduates through the years.

“Taubman College is a very challenging place,” said Barr, who serves on the college’s Alumni Council. “Given that competitive environment and the size and scale of both U-M and Taubman College, I think there is more opportunity for people to shine and to create their own niche and their own place to be successful.”

Dean Jonathan Massey said students’ continued success in strengthening the ranks of one of the nation’s premier architecture firms speaks to the rigorous preparation and extensive opportunities that Taubman offers.

“Our deep-rooted relationship with Quinn Evans exemplifies the contributions that Taubman alumni make to advancing both practice and the education we offer at Michigan,” Massey added. “We are proud of this key partnership and congratulate Quinn Evans for the AIA recognition of four decades of achievement.”

Although Michael Quinn and David Evans have both passed away, the firm carries on the founders’ commitment to providing its people with growth opportunities. As just one example, employees don’t have to be principals to own shares in the firm.

Portrait of Kemba BraynonKemba Braynon, B.S. Arch ’95, M.Arch ’97, is a mid-career associate and “proud shareholder” at Quinn Evans. “The culture is diverse and welcoming, and the firm is always eager to learn how to be better with both of those things,” said Braynon, who previously worked as an architect in Chicago and for the City of Detroit.

To keep fresh perspectives among leadership, Quinn Evans requires shareholders, once they turn 62, to sell 25 percent of their shares per year for four years. Barr sold off a majority of his shares in 2022 and gave way to a new CEO, Alyson Steele. With about 225 employees, Quinn Evans is now one of the largest majority women-owned design practices in the nation.

Portrait of Imman SuleimanImman Suleiman, B.S. Arch ’16, M.Arch ’19, started at Quinn Evans in 2019, six months after completing graduate school at Taubman College. She loved how the firm prioritized her well-being and personal and professional growth – financially and through intentional coaching and mentorship.

Suleiman became licensed in under two years, earned green-building certifications, and now coordinates intern recruitment for the firm’s Detroit and Ann Arbor offices. In less than five years on the job, she’s worked on numerous projects including the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., the Buffalo Central Terminal in New York, and Michigan Central Station.

“Quinn Evans’ commitment to creating an excellent work environment and office culture translates to the outstanding services provided by its people,” Suleiman said. “This supportive atmosphere has inspired me to pursue a passion that resonates with my identity as an Ethiopian Muslim architect. My dream is to gain a deeper understanding of the architectural heritage of the Global South and hopefully take QE’s mission to a global level.”

Barr said Quinn Evans remains committed to changing lives through its sustainable, inclusive preservation and design work, just as its founders intended.

“What really matters to us is being involved in our communities and making our communities better places,” Barr said. “The roots of the firm are in preservation, so we know that it’s not our building. It’s not even our generation’s building. If we do the building right, it has an arc that lasts much longer. What’s more important is preserving the cultural attributes of the building.”

Michigan Central Station photos by Jason Keen: instagram.com/jasonkeenco/