Creativity in the Technical Realm:
MAF Scholarship Winner Grace Cooley


When one of Grace Cooley’s high school teachers suggested she look into architecture as a way to bring together her love of math and science and her creative side, she knew she found her future career path. “I saw architecture as an opportunity to have a creative outlet, while still having a foundation in the technical realm,” said Grace.

Grace, who is a graduate student in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture & Community Development’s (SACD) architecture program, is the recipient of MAF’s 2022 Daniel W. Toshach & AIA Saginaw Valley Chapter Scholarship. The MAF Scholarship Jury noted Grace’s impressive academic record, well-rounded portfolio, and participation with AIAS (American Institute of Architects-Student Chapter) and NOMA (National Association of Minority Architects) among the reasons for selecting her for the scholarship.  “Winning a MAF scholarship allows me to better focus on school, and I am grateful to the MAF for recognizing me with the award,” said Grace.

As part of the MAF scholarship application, architecture students are required to include a personal statement describing their interests, experience, and plans related to architecture. “I talked about how meaningful it was to me to create thoughtful and attentive environments for people,” said Grace. “Good design has the ability to positively add to a person’s life, and that is the focus of my design work.”  Grace also spoke of her extracurricular activities, including volleyball, reading and writing music; and volunteer work through her church and at soup kitchens, doing neighborhood cleanups, and delivering food to families in need, and at an overnight camp, where she mentored 5th grade girls.

Scholarship applicants are also required to submit a student portfolio, and Grace included projects from the span of her academic career. “My favorite project is a sensorial installation that I worked on with two other students,” she said. “Using a hybrid of virtual reality and physical built space, the goal was to immerse the user into an experience that focuses on sight, touch, and sound. The physical installation was 8’x8’ and corresponded to the exact geometry created in VR, and 130 gallons of water filled the bottom of the installation. Silk, tulle, chicken wire, and velvet made up the haptic realm of the physical installation, correlating to what was happening inside the VR world. Music was written to fit the experience of the installation. The virtual reality allows the viewer to see an infinite plane of moving water as the ground, while the physical built space allows your feet to actually feel water. I loved how the project turned out and had a lot of fun designing and building it, and enjoyed working with my classmates.”

(See Grace and her fellow students building the installation and the installation in use:

What’s next for Grace? “This fall, I will start the final year of my graduate program, and I am looking forward to starting my thesis. I have been enjoying researching my topic, and learning about the various ways in which architecture and film intersect.” Post-graduation, Grace would like to design residential architecture, with a focus on interiors.

How does Grace think architecture enriches life? “People are constantly interacting with architecture,” she said. “We spend our entire lives resting in, moving through, or simply existing in designed spaces. These spaces are connected to memory, they help us function in our day-to-day, and they are ultimately the backdrop for our lives. Without architecture the world would be quite empty – not only physically, but also empty of tradition, culture, memory, and perception of environments, in a way that is hard to describe.”

“I love that architecture can foster connection and enrich people’s lives. Really good architecture adds to people’s lives, and it excites me that I will be able to design spaces that have the ability to bring joy to others.”


Photos, top to bottom: Grace, and a selection of images from her portfolio.