E. John Knapp made a significant mark on the architectural landscape of Grand Rapids and West Michigan during the short time he practiced in Grand Rapids.  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 in classrooms 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 developer and custom homes, churches, schools and commercial buildings.  He worked on downtown Grand Rapids commercial buildings while on the design team at Daverman Associates from 1964, until he moved in 1966 to Madison, Wisconsin to open a new Daverman Office specializing in campus planning.   

Knapp talked with awe about the rare opportunities he had as a young man from Belding, Michigan.  Knapp’s innate ability, his initiative and architectural skills, and his positive and confident nature won him these opportunities which leveraged with hard work, a tremendous store of creative energy and vision.  After he completed his last buildings, a group of innovative veterinary clinics and hospitals,  Knapp retired and spent more time on his poetry, and continued to paint and sculpt.  He described his apartment as an art gallery where the walls were with lined his abstract paintings and dressers topped by "saberdoodles,"  the nickname given his children to his beautiful abstract wood sculptures inspired by a visit to Alden Dow's home and studio around 1960.    On his 100th birthday, his senior apartment complex exhibited his paintings and sculpture.   E. John Knapp passed away on Christmas Day 2017, at age 101, after a summer of declining health. 

This gallery of photos honors his life and work.  Soon we will provide a link to the extended photo essay we are publishing detailing his life and work.  

Pam VanderPloeg, Architectural Researcher  |  |


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.