For MAF scholarship winner Makenna Karst, one of her favorite things about architecture (and how she thinks architecture enriches life) is its ability to shape our environment – for better or worse. “Architecture has a direct relationship to the enrichment of life,” she says. ”In a literal sense, the physical qualities of a space determine the health and comfort of its occupants.”
“More interestingly, architecture is a reflection of society and its values; therefore, architecture that supports community, equity, and sustainability enriches human life on a greater scale.”
Makenna, currently a graduate architecture student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning, is the 2023 recipient of MAF’s Daniel W. Toshach & AIA Saginaw Valley Chapter Scholarship. MAF’s scholarship jury noted Makenna’s impressive academic record and leadership activity with AIAS (American Institute of Architects Student Chapter) among the reasons for selecting her for the scholarship award.
“To have my work recognized by leaders in the Michigan architectural community is more than rewarding; knowing that my education is supported by industry leaders is incredibly encouraging and inspires me to keep pursuing these ideas that interest me,” said Makenna. “It was especially touching to have received the Daniel W. Toshach & AIA Saginaw Valley Scholarship after having spent time working with many communities throughout this region both in and outside the discipline of architecture.”
As part of their scholarship application, students must include a personal statement describing their interest, experience and plans related to architecture, as well as information on their leadership and extracurricular activities. “In my personal statement, I discussed my internship with WTA Architects (in Saginaw) and how that experience helped me to genuinely understand the role of the architect and how architecture can help better communities,” said Makenna. “By working with clients and shadowing practicing architects who actively support their local communities, I developed a deeper appreciation for architecture. This experience, in combination with one of my undergrad studio projects — which focused on empathetic and community-based design — made me realize that my greatest goal as a future registered architect is to combine my architectural practice with my passion for activism and social justice to help build strong, sustainable communities.”
She continues, “Regarding leadership and extracurriculars, I discussed my participation in my local AIAS chapter and Ferris State University’s Honor’s Program. Throughout my time with these organizations, I was able to plan social events, lead portfolio reviews and critique sessions, and offer support to fellow members. Extracurricular activities I shared included Camp Lu Lay Lea, one of my favorite places to volunteer, and the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon design competition, where my classmates and I made it as semifinalists.”
Growing up, Makenna was interested in art and design, and her fascination with architecture grew from her childhood hobbies of drawing and sketching, painting, crafting, and playing world-building video games. “My mother introduced architecture as a potential career for me, as she once studied it herself, which ultimately persuaded me to attend Ferris State for undergrad,” she said. “Although I began college as an undecided major, my mind shifted back to architecture after I attended a presentation about a church renovation given by one of my future architecture professors. My excitement from that presentation confirmed architecture was meant for me.”
While there is no specific type of architecture Makenna prefers (or would prefer to design) she has an interest in theater and performance spaces, and has developed a passion for community-based architecture and small community design, justice design, and sustainability, all of which she notes are important current architectural conversations. She adds, ”I cannot identify one specific favorite work of architecture, but my favorite designs tend to play with light and materiality. I’ve always admired “organic” architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and the way that Steven Holl manipulates light in his designs.”
While Makenna is still early in her Masters of Architecture program, she says her time in the program has already been rewarding. “The variety of backgrounds, interests, and cultures that my classmates bring has created such an inspiring environment,” she says. “In the past, I’ve struggled with deciding what areas of interest to focus on, as I’ve always been curious about everything. I believe being exposed to all of these new perspectives has helped me to identify some of my passions, and I’m loving the opportunity to be creative through diagrams, collages, sketches, and renderings.”
Makenna adds, “More generally, I cherish the way architecture is experienced by every human being; people live and form memories with specific buildings and spaces. To me, it is so touching to think about the influence architecture can have on peoples’ lives.”
Photos: top and bottom, Makenna; middle, a collage of images from Makenna’s portfolio.