E. John Knapp designed innovative modern architecture from 1952-1966 throughout West Michigan in Holland, Grand Rapids, Rockford, Greenville, and in Charlotte.    West Michigan Modern has documented over 50 custom residential, commercial, and church designs by Knapp, and has identified 130 of the over 300 developer houses designed by Obryon and Knapp for Albert Builders. It has been a joy to find that a significant number of these structures have retained their original design integrity. 

Knapp was born in Grattan Township in Kent County, Michigan on July 28, 1916.  He graduated from Belding High School in 1935, and married Ellen Maxine Gleason in 1941. His architectural studies were interrupted by World War II.  He served as a 1st Lt. Navigator in the 8th Air Corps 100th Bomb Group.  Knapp received his undergraduate degree in architecture and engineering from Lawrence Institute of Technology in 1947.  He worked as a young architect for a number of Detroit firms between 1945 and 1951, including Smith Hinchman & Grylls, Minoru Yamasaki, and Eero Saarinen & Associates.  

The experience of working with such amazing architects made its imprint on Knapp.  He shared one story of working in the Saarinen Office and Eero called him in to his office with some of the other young associates and unveiled his preliminary plans for the St. Louis Arch competition.  It was a moment forever stamped on the mind and heart of the young architect.  He worked as a job captain on the General Motors Technical center under construction beginning in 1949.  Daughter Marcia shared with me a letter inviting him to the grand opening that took place after Knapp had moved to West Michigan.

Knapp became especially interested in Japanese architecture after attending an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  His architecture professor gave him a book on Japanese design and that changed his outlook forever.  The principles of Japanese design continued to inform his work, and he used an adaptation of the Japanese module throughout his career.  Sculpture was also his great love, and while living in Detroit, Knapp enriched his work by studying with noted Detroit sculptor Sam Cashwan.  

In 1952 Knapp moved to Grand Rapids to partner with high school friend Charles A. O'Bryon (Obie). Despite their modern design aesthetic, their offices were located in a former carriage stop at 300 Fulton East close to downtown. During the time Knapp practiced in Grand Rapids, he designed custom homes, churches, commercial buildings and developer houses.  

His first Grand Rapids building was the Varsity Grill.  Always on the look out for a way to better relations between client and architect and architects and builders, Knapp and Obie invited builders to a meeting held in the basement of the Varsity Grill, where they engaged in a discussion of why architects would hold back a percentage of the builders fee until the project was completed.  

From the start, John Knapp was building positive relationships and friendships.    During this time Knapp designed some truly beautiful custom executive homes detailed in the Principal Works section, and some innovative commercial buildings.  A huge amount of work came their way in the contract with Albert Builders that resulted in the design of over 300 homes built in East Grand Rapids, Rockford and dotted around West Michigan from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven to Muskegon. 

The Knapps raised three children --  Marcia J. Krech, Laura S. Arvold and Eric Knapp -- in a very modern home designed by Knapp in East Grand Rapids.  During that time, Knapp served as Vice-President of the Friends of Art Board of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.  In that role he particularly enjoyed the program they arranged where Charles Eames gave a lecture at the museum.   (Permission requested to share photograph of the Knapps and Charles Eames at the Museum.)

As Chairman of the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission, Knapp developed systematic procedures including archiving important building information that the city and homeowners could use later,  As a researcher, I believe that the East Grand Rapids Community sets a high standard in this area.   Knapp was active in the Michigan Society of Architects and the Grand Rapids Architectural League.

In the mid-1960's Knapp went to work for Daverman Associates in the Grand Rapids Office.  He said that really he had done what he wanted in the role of partner at O'Bryon and Knapp, and now it was time for a change.  At Daverman's, he once again developed strong relationships and partnerships that resulted in projects such as the  Old Kent Bank Building and the Transamerica Title Company, both adjacent to Calder Plaza downtown


In 1966 Knapp moved to Wisconsin and opened a Daverman Associates Office in Madison,  specializing in campus planning.   The Daverman Office announced his new position to the architectural community in the Michigan Society of Architect's monthly journal saying "E. John Knapp brings to Daverman's new Madison office a record of more than 19 years in architecture and planning...he is an architectural designer, landscape and site planner and the inventor of several construction details and systems."  During that time, Knapp worked on the team that completed five University of Wisconsin master plans.  He also built a beautiful home that West Michigan Modern has not yet seen.

In 1970 he formed his own firm, E. John Knapp, and became a specialist in Animal Facility Planning and developed a Demographic Market Study method. His firm designed over 500 vet clinics in 36 states and 4 countries.   Knapp Published The Floor Plan Book: Veterinary Hospital and Boarding Kennel Planning and Design with over 100 floor plans of animal facilities in 1996 after turning the firm over to new owners in 1995.  He moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and worked as architect, artist, poet and sculptor.


Today Knapp lives in Jefferson City, MO.  He know longer designs buildings.  His instinctive creative nature expresses itself in his art through painting and  poetry.

In 2009 published The Poet Flyer: World War II Poetry and Photographs, a moving account of his wartime experiences.  Knapp's apartment is his own art gallery filled with lovely sculptures in wood and wonderful paintings completed over a long span of time.  In July 2015 on his 99th birthday his senior residence held an exhibit of his sculptures, paintings and poetry.  In December 2015 he and daughter Marcia published a collection of poems, a memoir of Great Depression days on the farm titled My Belding Family by E. John Knapp.

We feel very fortunate to know this talented architect, artist, poet and wonderful human being.  He so willingly shared the details of his work and his enduring positive outlook on life.   Also many thanks to his loving daughter Marcia, whose love for her father and deep respect for his work has made this catalog possible.