The highly honored and respected architectural and engineering design company turns the big four-oh this year, and is doing so in spectacular fashion. On Friday, Progressive AE will receive the 2002 Architecture Firm Award from the Michigan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The award is the highest honor that AIA Michigan can give a firm, and it’s the first time a company outside of Metro Detroit has won the coveted top prize.
“It was obvious to us that Progressive has provided a high level of service to their clients for many years, and did it in a way that was consistent with high design ideals,” said Timothy Casai, AIA Michigan president.
“We’re not really picking a firm of the year for any one particular design,” he added. “It really is something that develops over a long period of time.”
The judges who selected Progressive for this mark of distinction called the firm’s work “outstanding” and “consistently excellent” for the past 17 years.
“We are extremely honored to have that kind of recognition at a state level. It was totally unexpected, and obviously we are very excited about it,” said Ray Fix, Progressive CEO and chairman.
Fix told the Business Journal that it was particularly pleasing to be chosen as the first out-state designer to earn the award, especially with so many high-caliber architecture and engineering firms working in West Michigan.
“I think it’s warranted that they be recognized as well, and we’re very pleased to be the first one to be recognized,” said Fix, an engineer and attorney.
Director of Design Philip Lundwall also felt that being the first firm beyond metro Detroit to win the award in its seven-year history was a significant step for Progressive.
“We’re really pleased by that because these folks are often our competition. To be recognized that way, we have to sort of wake up and take notice,” he said.
Lundwall added that the state prize was especially gratifying because the honor recognizes the collective body of work that Progressive has done.
“High-quality architectural design work is what we wanted to be known for, and to be recognized for over 10 years of practice and continuing high-quality work, well, that feels good,” he said.
Progressive will receive the esteemed award at the annual AIAMI honors ceremony being held in the Kingswood School on the Cranbrook campus in Bloomfield Hills, an elegant set of buildings designed nearly 80 years ago by the famous Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.
“It’s an architectural pilgrimage for people who are in the business. It’s a marvelous place that creates an educational environment that is very stimulating,” said Casai.
Four engineers started Progressive four decades ago. Four years later, a civil engineering group was added to the firm, then known as Progressive Engineering Consultants. The company began growing shortly after, picking up key clients and high-profile projects.
Then, in 1985, today’s Progressive was born, as the engineering design company merged with KSV Architects to become a full-service firm. Just two years later, the new Progressive won its first AIA award and its president, Sam Feravich, was named the Small Businessperson of the Year in Michigan.
More accolades and more employees found the firm relocating to its stylish headquarters on Four Mile Road in 1993. Then Progressive plucked the local design plum in 1997, as it was chosen to draw up the $219.5 million DeVos Place convention center.
“I think they are beginning to change some of the skyline of the area,” said Fix of the firm’s architects, “and it’s nice to have that kind of recognition.”
The celebration at Progressive actually began late last week as the firm held the first of at least two anniversary parties planned for this year. According to Kathleen Stewart Ponitz, senior vice president and director of marketing at Progressive, last Friday’s get-together was for the employees. It was a chance for them to reflect on the company’s valued past and to sneak a peek into the firm’s presumably bright future.
“We’ve really been trying to give depth and breadth to the new leadership that will be coming,” she said. “A lot of us are still going to be around for quite a while. But we want to make sure there is a lot of energy here, so that we are able to move faster because the pace is so much faster now.”
Ponitz added that Progressive plans to hold another gathering later this year to celebrate a successful first 40 years with clients and friends, a party that should take place this fall.
Turning 40 with the state AIA Architecture Firm Award in hand may not mark the beginning of life, as the adage coyly tries to lead us to believe. But gaining the prize at middle age must be considered a milestone for those at Progressive AE, one that likely indicates a satisfying sense of past triumph, a confident sense of present well being, and an exciting sense of future optimism.
“I would say that we are clearly on an upswing at this point in terms of what is happening within the firm and the challenges that we face,” said Fix. “There are opportunities that are available now that weren’t available when we started.”