Houzz 2013
Design Fusion

by Jim Akans

Frank Zychowski and Kevin Akey, founders of AZD Associates, Inc., seem to personify the unrestrained spirit of architectural creativity. The duo's youthful exuberance pervades the company's philosophies, objectives and office atmosphere. In just six years, AZD Associates, Inc. has established a reputation as a quintessential force in creating innovative residential and commercial design throughout the state of Michigan. In 1990, after graduating from Lawrence Technological University and gaining five years experience working for a prominent area architect, Frank and Kevin established AZD Associates, Inc. in Birmingham when they were each just 28 years of age. Frank observes, "Personally, we felt the timing was right. Unfortunately, the economy seemed questionable because the week after we quit our jobs the United States began Operation Desert Storm. We didn't know how this would work out! Over the past six years we have gained an understanding of the business of architecture: how to cultivate projects, work with clients, and the financial aspects of running a business. That is knowledge that can only be refined through actual experience."

An aspect of the business that comes naturally to the AZD team is the ability to listen to the needs and desires of the client before and during the design process. Frank emphasizes, "When a project may involve a year of design and two years of construction, it is very important to have a good working relationship with the client. Our accessibility to the client, the ability to listen and then respond are definitely keys to our success. The design and construction of a residence can be trying for the client, both emotionally and financially. We diligently try to remove the unknowns so the client understands their home project prior to construction. Our ultimate goal is to have the client extremely excited and proud of the final product--a home that will be increasingly exciting to live in."

While Kevin primarily focuses on the conceptual aspects of each project and Frank concentrates on the technical aspects, engineering and document production phase, the team interacts continually throughout the project. Kevin states, "I think we are different from many architectural firms in that Frank and I are both involved in each phase of our projects. I am typically the initial contact for the client, discussing their ideas and developing a preliminary design, and Frank reviews the design from a structural and feasibility standpoint. We continue to develop the design with our staff through an ongoing process of checks and balances until we have a complete, client-approved drawing package. The entire process encourages creativity and exploration of new avenues of thought."

AZD Associates, Inc. also assists the client throughout the entire process following drawing completion, including reviewing project estimates and ensuring that bids are complete and comprehensive. Frank notes, "Based on the size and caliber of the home, we provide the client with an estimate early in the design process of the approximate cost to build the project. Upon completion of the drawing package, we recommend the client bid the project with several builders if they do not already have a contractor they are comfortable with. If the client requests, we can help them review the bids to make sure contractors are comparing apples to apples."

He cautions, "It's not always necessary to award the project to the lowest bidder. There are many factors to consider, including whether the builder is someone the client will be able to trust and feel comfortable working with for a year or more during the construction of their home."

The general contractor, interior designer and landscape architect are the final components to the project team. Effective communication between builder, architect and homeowner is fundamental to a successful project. Kevin comments, "All of our projects involve site administration services. While the builder still runs the construction of the home, the client hires us to ensure that the ideas and detail in the design are accurately translated into the actual construction."

Frank adds, "The client has invested significant time and effort working with us on a highly detailed design and we feel that the project should be built per the drawings and specifications. As site representatives, we work with the builder in interpreting the intricacies of the design. We are each able to see things from a different perspective to make the end product as faithful as possible to the intent of the design."

If there is a signature to an AZD design, it can be found inside the home through the use of open living spaces, extensive use of glass that bathes living areas in natural light while maximizing views, and fine interior detailing incorporating state-of-the-art technology. Each design is specifically tailored to the qualities of the site, the client's aspirations and lifestyle, fused with the creative intuitions of the AZD Associates team.

Kevin relates, "We consciously try very hard not to have an 'AZD look' to our home designs. We truly feel nature is our co-designer. A design may be contemporary, traditional, or a blend of new ideas and styles. Each project is treated as an individual entity. We want someone to think of us when they are looking for a truly unique, personalized home."

Kevin and Frank stress that a custom designed residence is not limited to large-scale new home projects. Renovation projects account for a substantial portion of AZD Associates' work, and Kevin points out that regardless of square footage, creative design achieves a home's optimum potential. "We can be just as creative with smaller living spaces and less expensive materials. It is still evident that the home is a personalized, architectural design. It achieves beyond what is typical."

AZD Associates, Inc. is also involved in creating more production-oriented designs for area builders and developers, as well as commercial projects. Although these plans must accommodate the building timetables and budgets required by the builder, they incorporate many exciting features found in AZD's custom designs. Frank adds, "Innovation is not necessarily expensive. Being able to adjust your perspective and view the proposed project in a creative manner can lead to a highly successful solution. Our state-of-the-art CAD services allow us to explore many more alternatives in a shorter period of time, thus providing more efficient service to our clientele."

One-of-a-kind residences are the cornerstone of AZD's craft. Frank affirms, "The highest level of satisfaction comes from seeing something you have designed for an individual client come to fruition. A large part of that gratification is having experienced working with the client and creating an environment that meshes with their lifestyle."

A fundamental belief shared by Frank and Kevin is that good architecture should transcend trendy imagery and decoration. Each residential project requires attention to a diversity of requirements: the creation of exciting spaces, use of quality materials and implementation of innovative detail. Kevin affirms, "When a person views an AZD-designed structure, we feel they can truly appreciate the difference good architecture makes. It's about proportion, light, and originality. We never want to lose that focus and quality."

Builder/Architect Magazine congratulates Frank Zychowski and Kevin Akey and the staff of AZD Associates, Inc. for being selected as our featured architect. We wish them long and continued success. Feel free to contact them at your convenience to review their full portfolio of completed and proposed projects. ~B/A