Topics: Alumni, College of Architecture and Planning

February 5, 2015

Ball State alumnus Zachary Benedict

Ball State alumnus Zachary Benedict was named one of the best young architects in the country by the American Institute of Architects, a longtime industry research and advocacy group. Benedict, MA ’05, is a partner at MKM architecture + design in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a firm specializing in projects focused on health and well-being. He was one of 14 young architects recognized for 2015, and the second consecutive Ball State alumnus to receive the award.

“I’ve been telling people I was going to be an architect since I was 6,” Benedict said. “I’m living my dream.”

In his role as architect and urbanist at MKM, Benedict manages the firm’s research efforts and community-based projects. His work focuses on designing projects for towns and neighborhoods in the Midwest in ways conducive to multi-generational living. For example, when designing a project, Benedict and his team consider a community’s access to resources that would be not just necessary, but add value to one’s quality of life. Features including walkability, gathering and green space, and access to affordable retail and services—grocery stores, healthcare, schools, parks—all socioeconomic benefits of intergenerational communities are taken into consideration.

“My goal is to hopefully, someway, through the work we do, give as many people as possible an engaging life through independence and dignity,” Benedict said. “We’re trying to spend some of our energy coming up with prototypical strategies for small- to mid-sized cities. We’re trying to make a tangible difference in real people’s lives.”

Dodd Kattman, a founding partner of MKM, said Benedict is quickly becoming a preeminent expert on lifelong communities, as cities and towns around the country look to him for guidance when considering the needs of aging populations.

“I’ve come to realize Zach has been the most influential architect in the U.S. raising awareness of this problem,” Kattman said, adding that groups including the Pfizer Foundation have looked to Benedict for leadership in the area of urban planning for aging populations. “It’s not just talk. Zach has shown exceptional leadership and has made significant contributions to the profession.”

The recognition doesn’t surprise Wes Janz, a longtime faculty member in Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning. “Zach is very bad at masking his enthusiasm, and that’s a wonderful part of him,” Janz said. “You can always count on him to listen closely and ask good questions. In a really great way, he’s willing to say difficult things out loud.”

And those questions, Janz said, directly inform and influence Bendict’s work, which leads to recognition like the AIA award.

“He is willing to admit he doesn’t know everything, and that hasn’t changed as he’s gotten more adulation. Architecture is a field that people enter and do for a variety of reasons... Zach is one who, throughout his career, has put people at the core of his work.”

So considering ways in which not only a developer, but underserved populations like the elderly, can benefit from intelligent and thoughtful design is par for the course for Benedict, Janz said.

“Zach is a great embodiment of the ethics and morality we are seeing in our students. He could have moved to another part of the country. He had an internship in Los Angeles, but when he was done he wanted to come back. He said he wanted to see what he could do for a city in his home state,” Janz said.

Guillermo Vásquez de Valasco, dean of the College of Architecture and Planning, echoes Janz’s observations.

“Zach stands among the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met,” Vásquez de Valasco said. “He’s been an active supporter of the mission of our college, and for that he has been recognized with a College of Architecture and Planning outstanding achievement award. He provides a role model of exceptional value.”

Benedict joins fellow alumnus Daniel Overbey on the prestigious AIA list. Overbey, ’05, is with the firm Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf in Indianapolis and was named an AIA Young Architect in 2014.