Shannon Easter White has actively been a part of Flint’s community in a number of ways. Her professional credentials will amaze you, but her extracurricular activities will inspire you. In addition to being the owner and president of FUNchitecture, LLC, Shannon supports the Junior League of Flint, the YWCA of Greater Flint, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, the Flint Institute of Arts, the Shelter of Flint, the Ruth Mott Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and Whaley Children’s Center.
What part of Greater Flint are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Flint Township. I attended K-12 in Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools.
Where did you go to college and what degree(s) did you earn?
I was enrolled in the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University and played collegiate soccer my first two years there. Then, I transferred to the University of Michigan’s School of Architecture for my junior and senior years. I graduated from U of M in 2000 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture, and in 2003 with a Master of Architecture degree after a study abroad program in Florence, Italy.
What aspects of your career are the most exciting?
Every day is a new challenge, a new problem to creatively solve. The opportunity to always think differently about the built environment and come up with new design solutions keeps every day exciting and fun!
What career achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my 7+ years of success at my own firm, FUNchitecture [pronounced FUNK-i-tecture]. My most significant project is the Flint Farmers’ Market. It has won numerous design and planning awards, has become a hub for community gathering, and is just a downright cool place to shop, eat and hang out! I believe it to be one of Flint’s finest examples of creative adaptive reuse. We gave a defunct and vacant building a vibrant and brilliant new purpose for decades to come.
On what career goal are you most focused right now?
Seeing this awesome batch of projects I’m working on come to fruition and continuing the redevelopment of my original hometown, Flint, and my close-to-home hometown of Fenton. I have great design projects underway right now and can’t wait for them to be occupied and on the map – some notable projects are the new iSource Worldwide Headquarters in the Dryden Building bringing 100 tech jobs to Downtown Flint, a new ground-up, state-of-the-art ELGA Credit Union in Flushing, a new Hurley Bariatric and Specialty Care Clinic, the rebirth and redesign of the Ferris Furs building Downtown on Saginaw Street into a seven-story co-working, conference and innovation hub, and the newly designed and contemporary Horizon Building in downtown Fenton that will bring a minimum of three new businesses, just to name a few!
How did growing up in Flint shape who you are today?
There’s no doubt, if you grow up in Flint, you have resilience and tenacity; it’s part of the fabric of my being. I’d even venture to say it has helped me as a young female architect to find a way comfortably in a male-dominated profession. I’ve never been ashamed to tell people I’m from Flint – and while Flint has more than its fair share of problems, we’ve come a long way in the last decade. We, as a community, just keep plugging along and reinventing our community, the businesses in it, the buildings that house those businesses and there’s a lot of hope in the next decade – imagine the possibilities! We must continue celebrating the successes, because in life, it’s the little things, right?
Who are the special people who influenced you?
Without a doubt, my parents. My dad is a retired manufacturing engineer and die designer for General Motors – I grew up watching him at the drafting board, so I get my technical, engineering brain from him. He’s also an awesome artist. My mom, on the other hand, is a retired Flint Community Schools elementary teacher. Decades ago, the first things to be cut in public schools like Flint were music, gym and art, so classroom teachers found themselves in each of those professions in addition to their class work.
My mom was always coming up with fun crafts and projects for us as kids, and for those she taught. She understands that kids need to design, create, and think outside the box – I get my wacky, creative brain from her. My parents supported me in everything I ever wanted to try or learn and supported me when I decided to switch from pre-med to architecture in the middle of my college years. They supported my travel abroad – twice! That led me to know that architecture was, for sure, the right path for me.
I’d like to note another person who influenced me professionally and was absolutely my first and strongest mentor – Jim Tomblinson, founder of the firm where I worked for a decade, THA Architects Engineers, formerly Tomblinson Harburn Associates. Jim took me under his wing from the moment I started at the firm. He taught me about building business relationships, how to interact and truly listen to clients, and reinforced that great manners and professionalism are always keys to success, way before creativity and innovation.
He let me blossom as a designer on projects that were his and really celebrated when we had successes as a team. I watched people return to Jim for architectural advice and services time and time again, sometimes decades after their initial project was completed. He inspired the way I conduct my own business today.
What do you hope for the future of your profession?
I hope that architects continue to collaborate with engineers, scientists, inventors and researchers to continue developing new building products that are more efficient, more economically smart, more environmentally friendly and just downright brilliant and cool! I also hope that architects continue to be good stewards of their built environments and our communities, because we need the world to recognize and value the fact that good design does matter.
What is your hope for Flint’s future?
I see a bright future for Flint. I see a city where every child has access to high-quality early education, access to healthy food, access to health care, great new schools, places where families can live, eat, worship, work, play and spend time together. I grew up in Flint and my family is partially in Flint, and I’ve stayed in Flint. If I’m going to remain here, I’m determined to be part of the solutions that lead us to a brighter, better city.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love trying new things and entertaining family and friends. I love encouraging and watching my kids learn new sports and enjoy new adventures. I love U of M football, snow skiing and all things sunny and summer involving the water. I love trying new restaurants and love the farm-to-table movement and supporting local entrepreneurs who are creating new things that are locally grown and made … #PureMichigan!
Photography by Eric Dutro & Photos provided by Shannon White & FUNchitecture