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 WWII where 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.
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 he 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. Obryon. During the time Knapp practiced in Grand Rapids he designed custom homes, churches, commercial buildings and developer houses. The Knapps raised three children - Marcia J. Krech, Laura S. Arvold and Eric Knapp. Knapp served as Vice-President of the Friends of Art Board of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and as Chairman of the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission. In the mid-1960's Knapp went to work for Daverman Associates in the Grand Rapids Office and worked on commercial buildings including the Old Kent Bank Building in downtown Grand Rapids.
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.
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 where he continues his art by writing poetry, and 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, and in July 2015 on his 99th birthday his senior residence held an exhibit of his sculptures, paintings and poetry.
We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know this talented architect and artist and wonderful human being. He so willingly shared the details of his work and his enduring positive outlook on life.
Examples FROM THE CATALOG OF E. John Knapp's work in the Modern wm ARCHIVE
1952 Varsity Grill, Grand Rapids, MI(p. 22) http://modernwm.org/commercial-modern/#new-page-1
1955 Hollis Baker Jr. Summer Home, Holland, MI
1957 Faith Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, MI
1957 O'Ryan House, Norton Shores (Muskegon), MI (p. 5) http://modernwm.org/#oryan-house-mona-lake-muskegon
1958 Knapp Residence, East Grand Rapids, MI
1958 Lovell Laramy House, Grand Rapids, MI
1959 Dunlap House, Charlotte, MI(p. 7) http://modernwm.org/#two-of-a-kind-dunlap-house
1959 Ronda Tire, Grand Rapids, MI
1960 Lafayette Medical Building, Grand Rapids, MI (p. 3) http://modernwm.org/in-trouble/#lafayette-medical-center
1962 North Park Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, MI
1964 Amberg Residence, East Grand Rapids, MI
1955 - 1966 Over 300 developer houses for Albert Builders (Watch for Spring 2016 WMM)