Q&A with Alex Hokkanen, Architectural Associate at Seven Generations AE
Alex is a recent graduate with a Masters of Architecture from the University of Michigan. Alex is passionate about sustainable health environments, and ecologically sound community planning and design; he is supporting the Seven Generations team in all aspects of the architectural practice including proposal writing, research, architectural design and production.
When and how did you decide to get into architecture?
When I was 17, I was set to be an aerospace engineer, but then I took a Civil Engineering and Architecture class my senior year of high school and I was hooked. This realization came only after I had applied to University under an Aerospace Engineering major – a course change to say the least. I have no regrets; Architecture combines the problem-solving of the engineering fields with an eye for aesthetic environments and more direct client interactions.
When did you start here at Seven Generations? What drew you to this position?
My first day was June 26th 2017. I met Jeremy Berg at the Taubman College Career Fair at the University of Michigan by chance. I happened to walk by a poster that read, “Seven Generations Architecture and Engineering,” and something told me to stop. I had recognized the name, or more accurately, the Native American philosophy that the name embodies. I was introduced to it during my undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Their Sustainability Studies program shaped, to a great extent, the remaining years of my architectural education and now my career.
How do you function as part of the team at Seven Generations?
My title is Architectural Associate. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to sit in on potential client meetings, review fee proposals, conduct research, work directly on a handful of projects including the Dowagiac Elementary Schools, and contribute to our responses to various Requests for Proposals. I feel like 7GenAE is the perfect size to be agile and ambitious in terms of projects we strive for, is a great community of professionals, and the willingness to involve me in various aspects of the firm has been fantastic!
What sets Seven Generations apart from other firms?
For me, it’s in the name. The firm has a compelling built-in narrative that is tied to a unique ownership model, as a subsidiary of Mno-Bmadsen and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, that communicates a guiding philosophy. The office has aspirations to do the work that makes a difference in our own community and those across the country.
What has been your favorite project so far, academic or otherwise?
My favorite project of my young career would probably be during my time at the University of Michigan. Professor Doug Kelbaugh set up a studio for students to work with the City of Detroit and the Congregation at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn to design a Mosque and Medina complex in Detroit. Not only did we have client meetings, in lieu of traditional academic reviews, we also responded to a very real set of conditions and, at times, navigated conflicting priorities of the client, the designer, and the city. The semester concluded with a final presentation to the client in hopes of convincing all involved to move forward with the site. To that end, I was selected with one of my colleagues to write the book, so to speak, on the work we had done thus far to support an international Request for Qualifications and jump-start fundraising efforts to build a new Grand Mosque and Medina for metro Detroit.
What do you do outside of work? What else are you passionate about?
I’m a voracious reader! Most weekends you can find me at the library or on the porch with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
Are you more interested in function or aesthetic?
Both, and in a way, neither. Function and Aesthetic are only considered to the extent that it works for the people within. While a ‘working building’ is usually associated with the functional aspects, the non-tangible needs of users can be aesthetic in nature and contribute directly to happiness and productivity (as defined by the function).
Are you more interested in starting something from scratch or building onto something that already exists?
The most sustainable building is the one that already exists. Both new construction and renovation have technical and design challenges. To some extent, we are always adding on to something that already exists. Every site, even a greenfield, has a context, a history, and adjacencies that the architect is responsible for reacting to. Luckily, I am at a firm that excels at both!