Architecture Should ‘Enrich Experience,’ EGR Grad Tells Students

Thomas Payette and his wife, Virginia, one row back, and daughters Shelly, middle, and Jennifer, right

Senior Alex Pritchard likes the idea of a career in architecture, engineering or design. In one of his classes, he is designing a house meant to accommodate multiple generations under one roof.

So he liked what he heard when renowned architect Thomas Payette spoke at school, telling Alex and others in art and design, drafting and engineering classes that “architecture is not for the gratification of the architect. The challenge is how to enrich the experience for those who use the space. That’s the soul of what you’re supposed to be doing.”

EGR High School senior Alex Pritchard and a house he is designing that will accommodate generations
EGR High School senior Alex Pritchard and a house he is designing that will accommodate generations

Payette, an award-winning, Boston-area-based architect and 1951 East Grand Rapids High School graduate, was in town recently to accept a Distinguished Alumni Award from the EGR Schools Foundation. Former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie and Dr. David Gray, a scientist of neurology and occupational therapy, also were honored.

A Harvard graduate, Payette has become renowned for university and medical research facility design expertise. His company, which employs nearly 100 people, has had projects around the world. They include the LEED-certified School of the Environment at Duke University in North Carolina; a maternity and neonatal ward outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Aga Khan University hospital and medical school in Pakistan, to name just a few.

Thomas Payette and his future wife, Virginia, as students at EGR High School when it was located in what today is Wealthy Elementary, circa 1951 (photo courtesy EGRPS)
Thomas Payette and his future wife, Virginia, as students at EGR High School when it was located in what today is Wealthy Elementary, circa 1951 (photo courtesy EGRPS)

While at EGR — which he attended from kindergarten through high school — Payette served as captain of the high school’s swim team. He did well in school, he recalled, but had one hurdle: dyslexia.

“I’m proud of attending East Grand Rapids schools,” he said. “They did a lot for me.”

Earlier challenges may have informed his ability to meet professional challenges. Payette told students about the importance of understanding cultural and religious differences when designing buildings, and taking into consideration that other countries don’t have access to or want to use certain tools of the trade that are common in the U.S., like earth-moving equipment.

“It’s a great feeling to be an architect,” he told students. “You can be very creative, and you are all in a school where creativity is honored.”

CONNECT

East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation

Payette Company website

Thomas Payette, front row fourth from left, and the EGR swim team, of which he was captain (photo courtesy EGRPS)
Thomas Payette, front row fourth from left, and the EGR swim team, of which he was captain (photo courtesy EGRPS)
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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