E. John Knapp created a significant body of work in the architectural landscape of Grand Rapids and West Michigan during the short time he practiced in Grand Rapids from 1952 - 1966. He was born in Belding, Michigan in 1916 and died in Jefferson City, Missouri in Christmas Day, 2017.
Knapp graduated in 1947 from Lawrence Technology University with a degree in Architecture and Engineering, when the young school's classes were held at the former Ford Model T Assembly Plant. His design aesthetic was shaped by his early Exposure to Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki and Wirt Rowland, working from 1945 - 1951 at Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen, at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls and at Eero Saarinen & Associates in Detroit. He also studied sculpture from 1945-1947 with noted sculptor and Detroit resident Samuel Cashwan. As a partner in O’Bryon & Knapp from 1952 to 1964, he designed over 300 Albert Builders developer homes, designed at least three churches, five known mid-century schools and additions, several small commercial buildings and many custom modern homes. Knapp left the partnership to work for Daverman Associates on several downtown Grand Rapids commercial buildings completed during the Urban Renewal period. In 1966 he moved to Madison, Wisconsin to open a new Daverman Associates office and worked on five campus plans for the University of Wisconsin. In 1970 Knapp opened his own office in Madison specializing in the design of veterinarian hospitals and clinics and wrote a related plan book that you can still buy on Amazon.
Knapp talked with awe about the rare opportunities he had as a young man from Belding, Michigan. His positive look on life and his confident nature coupled with his skills as an architect and a tremendous store of creative energy and vision allowed him to transform opportunity into the buildings that we see around us today. When Knapp retired to Jefferson City, Missouri, he began to share his life experiences in poetry. He described his apartment to us as an art gallery with walls covered by his own abstract paintings and his furniture was topped with photos and sculptures. On his 100th birthday, Knapp's senior apartment complex staged an exhibit of his art. E. John Knapp passed away on Christmas Day 2017, at age 101, after a summer of declining health.
Look for "FINDING E. JOHN KNAPP" in Grand Rapids Mid-Century Architecture: Guidebook and Map by Pam VanderPloeg available to order on this website July 30, 2018.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A very special thank you to Marcia Knapp Krech for her ongoing support in this project to document her father's work, to the Grand Rapids City Archives and Grand Rapids Press Archives, to the Grand Rapids Public Library Local History and Special Collections Department where you find the Albert Builder's Collection and countless other materials, and to Melissa Fox, current President of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, who provided essential help in the early stages of the research.
Pam VanderPloeg, Architectural Researcher | grandrapidsbuildings.com |