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LTU Distinguished Architecture Alumni Award winner tells the stories of buildings

Release Date: October 8, 2021

Saundra Little describes one of her adaptive reuse projects in her talk accepting LTU's Distinguished Architecture Alumni Award.
LTU photo / Matt Roush

SOUTHFIELD—Saundra Little says she’s learning that every building tells a story.

And she told some of those stories Thursday night in accepting the Distinguished Architecture Alumni Award from Lawrence Technological University.

Little graduated from LTU with a Bachelor of Science in architecture in 1998 and a Master of Science in architecture in 1998. She is an accomplished, award-winning architect whose career path led through several firms, most recently as principal and director of diversity and inclusion at the Detroit firm Quinn Evans. She is also a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects—only the second Black woman in Michigan to be so honored—and is Midwest vice president of the National Association of Minority Architects.


Saundra Little
Quinn Evans photo

“A love of history has informed my work,” Little said. “One of the things that’s taught here (at Lawrence Tech) that I didn’t know about is that history and culture are part of the underlying curriculum. It was such a rich education here.” Little said her LTU classes took her on field trips to Idlewild, a historic Black resort community in the woods and lakes of northwest Lower Michigan, and studying the history of the historic Graystone Ballroom, a legendary jazz and Motown venue that opened in 1922 and was razed in 1980. She said one of her favorite professors, Gordon Bugbee, lectured about Michigan architectural history from a personal slide collection.

Little’s impressive resume includes modern buildings like Detroit Metro Airport’s North Terminal, but it’s clear that her first love is urban revitalization and adaptive reuse projects.

Included was work that turned a parallelogram-shaped furniture store into the national Arab-American Museum in Dearborn, and long-vacant spaces into vibrant hotels and coworking spaces for startup companies, like TechTown and SpaceLabs, the David Klein Art Gallery, 139 Cadillac Square, now the Sonder at Randolph Hotel, all in Detroit. Her firm is also working on neighborhood urban planning projects in the Jefferson-Chalmers, Island View, and Warrendale-Cody-Rouge neighborhoods of Detroit.

“These buildings I’m touching have a story to tell, and it affects design,” Little said. “I’m starting to figure that out. And I really enjoy the relationships I’m building along the way.”

Little’s firm is also involved in the massive rebuilding project of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit. She joked that so many LTU students took on a speculative rehab of that building as a senior project that it got banned as a project topic—but now her firm is working on the real thing.

Little also said that she continues to mentor younger Black women into architecture and design—given that only 0.3 percent of the nation’s 116,242 licensed architects are Black women.

In introducing Little, the dean of LTU’s College of Architecture and Design, Karl Daubmann, noted the university’s robust partnership with the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The college continues to expand, admitting its largest freshman class in five years in August, and growing its online graduate program all over the country, with an emphasis on mid-career students.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 100 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.


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