2021 Young Architects Award Recipient

Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.

Channeling his immense talent and commitment to advancing the profession, Michael Alan Davis, AIA, delivers responsive and innovative design solutions that provide their users with a true sense of space. A devoted leader in his firm and in-demand mentor for Tennessee’s larger design community, he greatly impacts the lives of those with whom he intersects.

A native of Tennessee, Davis’ reputation as a talented and thoughtful designer was formed during his undergraduate studies at the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design, where he garnered a number of scholarships and awards. When he graduated in 2008, he was the class valedictorian and received AIA’s Henry Adams Medal for his outstanding achievements as a student.

Since completing his studies, Davis has been a member of Knoxville’s Sanders Pace Architecture, best known for its careful research and thoughtfully executed work. As an intern architect, Davis’ skills were recognized early by the firm’s leadership, and he made critical contributions to award-winning projects in the first two years of his career. In 2020, now a project architect, Davis celebrated 12 years at Sanders Pace where he continues to lead the design of a wide range of projects, from residential to commercial, in varying scales.

“The research he initiates informs design solutions that are appropriate to our place and sensitive to the parameters set forth by the initial problem with results that are ultimately celebrated by the end users.”

He spearheaded the design of a new headquarters for Tombras, a Knoxville full-service advertising agency founded in 1946. The adaptive re-use project reconfigured the former Knoxville Utilities Board, a long-vacant, imposing building, which now houses 250 employees and allows the agency to play an active role in the city’s downtown renaissance. The project was celebrated with an AIA East Tennessee honor award and a Keep Knoxville Beautiful Orchid Award in 2019.

“The built works and subsequent accolades that he has received clearly represent the elevated design approach that he brings to all projects, at all scales,” wrote John Lynch Sanders, FAIA, of Sanders Pace Architecture in a letter nominating Davis for the Young Architect Award. “The research he initiates informs design solutions that are appropriate to our place and sensitive to the parameters set forth by the initial problem with results that are ultimately celebrated by the end users.”

Davis has been an active member of AIA since 2012 and assumed a leadership role on the AIA East Tennessee Board of Directors in 2019. This year, he is the chapter’s president and will lead it through the implementation of its three-year strategic plan. Last year, Davis served as a director-at-large for AIA Tennessee and in 2019 organized the tours and panel discussions for the chapter’s Conference on Architecture. Outside of AIA, Davis has, since 2014, volunteered to help organize PechaKucha Knoxville, a quarterly event that highlights the city’s creative community.

Davis’ time as a teaching assistant at his alma mater ignited a desire to mentor the profession’s next generation of architects, and he continues to serve as a guest critic at the university. Davis has twice been invited to lead third-year design studios, both of which have focused on the region and Knoxville’s urban wilderness. His strong relationship with the school has deepened the connection between it and his firm, and many of Sanders Pace’s interns are recent graduates.

“Michael is an obvious talent. His skillset spans the full range of our discipline. He cares deeply about design, mentorship, education, and building,” wrote Andrew Moddrell, AIA, a partner at Port, in a letter supporting Davis’ nomination. “Perhaps what stands out to me most is that although one could easily imagine Michael excelling in any architecture practice in any city, he dedicated himself to becoming a mentor and leader within the professional and educational community in his home state of Tennessee.”


Peter Kuttner, FAIA , Chair, Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

John Castellana, FAIA,  TMP Architecutre, Inc., Bloomfield Hill, Michigan

Frances Halsband, FAIA, Kliment Halsband Architects, New York, New York

Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA, Stanley Love-Stanley, Atlanta, Georgia

Ryan McEnroe, AIA, Quinn Evans, Washington, D.C

Chris-Annmarie Spence, AIA, Wkarch, Chicago, Illinois

Image credits

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Michael Davis

Michael A. Davis-04

Sanders Pace Architecture

Michael A. Davis-05

Bruce Cole Photography

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Bruce Cole Photography

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Keith Isaacs