January 2023 Connections Alumni Profile
Megan Feenstra Wall ’98 doesn’t remember exactly when she decided to be an architect.
Maybe it started when she was a little girl pondering church ceilings—as she did through most church services of her childhood at North Street CRC, or Eastmanville CRC, imagining the whole thing flipped upside down, and how fun it would be to slide down the giant beams.
Or it could have been when she loved art and found math easy at Holland Christian High School, so that Mr. Tuls wouldn’t even bother to check her math assignments. And Mrs. Luce, the art teacher then and a favorite, pushed her to “keep exploring that creative side.” Luce, along with Mr. Hiskes, Mr. Tuit, and Mr. Triezenberg in particular opened Megan’s eyes to “different perspectives, different views of the world— they challenged kids in a really wonderful way.”
So maybe it was someone in high school who encouraged architecture since it combined her two loves of math and art.
But Megan didn’t know any architects back then, much less any female architects. So she just took the next step, an interdisciplinary degree at then-Calvin College, with masses of engineering and math classes, alongside art and art history, especially the history of architecture.
”That’s been a pretty consistent theme of mine—I’ll be the voice for the people who don’t feel like they’re being
And then found herself at Columbia University in New York City for graduate school in architecture for the next three years.
“It was really hard, but in a really wonderful way, challenging, exhausting,” Megan said. “Architecture students don’t sleep, and you definitely don’t sleep in that school in that city—all you do is school,” she added. “But because of it I made some really wonderful friends. It broadened my worldview to just be aware of ‘the other,’ because there’s so many different ways of thinking—and it definitely put me on the spot as a Christian.”
But in that challenging environment, she also recognized the “good base” built for her by her Christian schooling at ZCS, HC, and Calvin. And found that people on average didn’t have the same family support or social networks that she had growing up: “By being a person of peace, people saw that I had a different kind of grounding.”
But it was also through that new awareness of being “the other” in a community that she found a second calling—to give those outside the “norm” a voice they might not otherwise have on their own.
Immediately after graduating from Columbia, Megan worked in a private architecture firm in NYC—long hours for little pay, like most architects in NYC. “And all we did was work, and it felt very competitive, and there was so much ego in the profession,” she said.
”It broadened my worldview to just be aware of ‘the other,’ because there’s so many different ways
So she quit, not knowing for sure if she’d ever go back to architecture, and after one season of teaching skiing at Winter Park together with her husband, Josh, they backpacked through Asia for six months.
Which was “just amazing, and again, broadening our view of the world and how amazing and vast it is, and how many different ways people live,” she said.
But then Megan fell in love with the possibilities of architecture again in Durham, England, where she worked for an architecture firm in Newcastle while Josh pursued a second masters in theology. And she found a different way to do her career: Since the British firm often took Friday afternoons off, working just 36 hours a week, with 20 vacation days, she found that architecture as a profession could be both sustainable and fun. “Plus I saw how good design could be valued,” and was considered worth the additional cost, she said.
After Josh finished his masters, they bought a car from exchange students for a bottle of whiskey—the deal of the century?—and traipsed through Europe for three months. Then moved back to West Michigan in 2009, smack in the middle of the recession.
And found no jobs. Anywhere.
She thinks she ended up with the only architecture job anywhere in Michigan, Iowa, or Colorado when she got a job at AMDG, a Catholic firm committed to working for the glory of God. Megan and Josh moved to Grand Rapids, bought a car for real, and settled into work, Megan helping design several major Christian school renovations, including Grand Rapids Christian High School and Middle School.
“And that actually meant something to me: When I left it was under construction, and some of the teachers pulled me aside and were like, ‘We’re really sad that you’re leaving because we feel like you were our voice,’” she said. “And that’s been a pretty consistent theme of mine—I’ll be the voice for the people who don’t feel like they’re being heard.”
A few years and one child later, Megan was offered a job at Mathison | Mathison, an architecture start-up at that time meeting in the owner’s private residence. And learned shortly after the interview that she was pregnant unexpectedly with twins.
“I thought my life was over—it took me a couple months to get over. I feel bad, but it did,” Megan admitted. “Though now it’s awesome—everyone should be a twin! It’s like a built-in playmate, it’s like a confidence booster!”
Megan went back to Mathison, told them about her pregnancy, assuming they would want to find someone else to fill the job. But they told her that she was still the right one for them.
”I think that beauty should be accessible for everyone and that everyone knows their own environment and the way they work and live best, and so
I like to be able to tease that out and create spaces that can help them live and work better.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Megan said. “I loved that it was a start up, it was the best in design—and I wanted to be able to email my work to my friends in NYC.”
Eventually also an owner of Mathison | Mathison, Megan continued to design school renovations, including the original South Christian renovation before they decided to sell and start completely over with a large donation. A few modern private residences, but also commercial, like a big distillery in Traverse City and a food pantry in Wyoming. Plus historic places like St. Cecilia Music Center, a concert hall downtown Grand Rapids. “That was a really cool project because of the women who started it originally, the woman in charge of the renovation was really cool, and the contractor was female,” Megan said.
And then the awards and accolades started pouring in. In 2016 Megan received the Michigan Young Architect award by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA). She joined the governing board at Kendall College of Design when they added an architecture program with Ferris, and she helped choose the program’s curriculum. She joined the AIA, and was voted president of the Grand Rapids chapter for 2021—the first female president ever. At the time almost 50% of architecture students were female, but only 17% of practicing architects were female.
But it was through that experience and podium especially during the COVID years that Megan was able to cement her voice for the “other,” for those on the outside—for the other women, especially black women in the field. For those with disabilities, or for those affected first by the degradation of the environment—another passion of hers.
One of Megan’s current projects is turning the old South Christian High School into community and office space for Special Olympics Michigan with several other non-profits that service a similar population—a design project she feels created to do as both a Christian and a female.
”I feel like that thread through Zeeland Christian and Holland Christian is kind of coming back full circle in a really wonderful way. In making sure that those voices can be heard.
“That project is so cool—it’s rare for Special Olympics; usually Special Olympics doesn’t own buildings—they tend to rent, and when you rent you get last dibs, and the disability community almost always has last dibs,” Megan said.
She thinks that inclusive philosophy may have started already back at ZCS in second grade, when she was in one of the first inclusive ed classes: “I still remember it being introduced, that we’re going to have these kids who look different in our classroom, and we’re just going to welcome them,” Megan said. “I feel like that thread through Zeeland Christian and Holland Christian is kind of coming back full circle in a really wonderful way. In making sure that those voices can be heard.”
Megan’s design philosophy comes out of who she is as a person, but also as a Christian and a female: “Women are used to having to consider others in a way that men haven’t always needed to,” she said. “Is that Christian? It’s always something I do—to include, and make sure the voices that haven’t been heard can be heard.”
“And I think that beauty should be accessible for everyone,” she continued, “and that everyone knows their own environment and the way they work and live best, and so I like to be able to tease that out and create spaces that can help them live and work better. And I think that everyone deserves that.”