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Mike Shively, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Founding Partner, Architect
En Masse | Chicago, Illinois


To Mike Shively, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, whose mission in life is to make life better through architecture, design is a personal exploration. But it is less about putting his own stamp or personal architectural mark on the work he co-creates with his studio team and clients, and more about the process and the relationships fostered along the way to deliver intricately layered, high-performance spaces that bring true peace and joy to people. It is an exploration that emphasizes meeting people where they are, understanding how they live, and slowing down the pace of daily life to build a community around each project to create inspired spaces that clearly articulate a client’s vision, intuitively meet their needs, and respond to its larger context.

Pictured: Mike Shively, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP | Photography: M-Buck Studio LLC

“I’m not really out to make grand statements, I’m out to make places that people love to be in, and I think without me trying to put my stamp on everything, there is a real signature that has come through just by helping people find the best of what they are looking for,” Shively said.

“We do all types of projects and some of them are very interesting commercial projects, restaurants, and office spaces, but more than ever I am drawn to residential. Even at a time of high construction costs and high interest rates, our phone never stops ringing. People get to a point in their life where they want to have a place that is peaceful to them, that feels like they created it to spend their life in, and, to me, that is the most rewarding part of my job, helping people uncover that vision of what is true to them and making spaces that are one-of-a-kind,” Shively added.

Shively is the founding partner of En Masse Architecture and Design Ltd. in Chicago, Illinois. Initially founded in 2015 as Mike Shively Architecture, the full-service architectural practice underwent a creative rebrand in name and logo when Lucas Goldbach, AIA, NCARB, became a partner in the firm in 2020, a process that would distill the team’s continued goals, services, and philosophy as a celebration and authentic representation of the tight-knit group of creative collaborators.

Today, En Masse is a reflection of how the architecture and design collective works and its diverse and uniquely welcoming team, reimagining how an architecture firm can embrace an empowered, whole-team creativity approach. Inspired by the etymology of the phrase “en masse,” meaning “all together,” the name is the foundation and integral philosophy at the heart of the studio, one in which values projects across scale and style and showcases a commitment to refined function, undeniable style, and a full-team involvement throughout the design and build process.

“I’m interested in spaces that can evolve and age with time, spaces that can blur inside and outside, really connect us to the place that we are at, and also places that can elevate both social interaction and times for solitude. When I started the firm in 2015, that was sort of an inevitable next path or where my trajectory had gone, and those principles laid the groundwork for the firm, but what I didn’t expect or didn’t really appreciate at the time, was that running a firm is actually the architecture of relationships,” Shively said.

“It is the mentoring of staff, discovering their talents, and putting them on the best task to succeed, which also applies to subcontractors and artists as well. It’s a community. You are always meeting people, trying to encourage them to bring their best and that is how you produce amazing projects. That is ultimately why three years ago now we changed the name from Mike Shively Architecture to En Masse Architecture and Design. En Masse means ‘all together,’ which is the philosophy of everything we do,” Shively added.

For Shively, “en masse” is more than a vocational framework, but rather a holistic lifestyle in which the boundaries between his work and his personal life are as blurred as those he strives to create in his residential and commercial projects. Rather than delineate the two, Shively envisioned a live-work headquarters that would feature four stories of varied programming and space in which to explore architecture, enjoy coffee, engage with community, host clients and guests, and recharge with his partner, Bryce Sprosty. The studio, which is located on a 21-foot-wide infill lot in Logan Square amid a row of Graystone buildings, features a private café and a conference room on the ground floor, office space on the second floor, and private residential space on the third and four floors.

To Shively, the Brutalist-inspired design—complete with a brise-soleil or grid-like façade of concrete and glass, and a glass-wrapped envelope on the fourth floor set back from the main volume—embodies the studio vision and is a concept that had been percolating in the back of his mind for some time. It also means getting in the door each day is just a few steps away, a daily commute he savors as much as the first cup of coffee he enjoys from the ground floor café.

“We are a 100 percent in-person neighborhood studio, which I think is really unique these days. I live upstairs so the lines between my life and my work are blurry, which I like. Most of the staff lives close by and we are all a really close community. We celebrate together and that closeness is fostered by us all being in-person every day and truly bringing out the best in each other, and culturally that then extends to our relationships with our clients,” Shively said.

“I often remind us that we are a three-legged stool. We are first and foremost a design studio and the second leg of the stool is process. We are not a firm that draws things and says go figure it out; we want to figure it out, so we are involved every step of the way. The third leg of the stool is friendships and relationships. These relationships don’t just last a few years during the project, but beyond it. I love helping people find that same peace that I find in architecture,” Shively added.

Long before starting his firm in 2015, Shively discovered his own love of architecture at a young age. Born and raised in the Midwest, Shively said he grew up in a family of wanderers and spent a lot of time in different cities throughout the region with similar architecture and often longed for places that had more of an identity. This desire, combined with his parents’ encouragement, really nurturing his passion for the field, is what drew him to the profession.

“I’m lucky in the sense that it was an inevitable thing. I grew up in a lot of different midwestern cities, we moved around a lot, and I also grew up gay in the ’90s, which was a different time,” Shively said. “For me, architecture—sketching buildings as a kid and thinking about architecture—gave me this sense of grounding. When you live in a lot of different midwestern cities, they all kind of feel the same, but I always found a lot of peace in thinking about architecture.”

Shively studied architecture at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree, before moving to New York City to intern with Kostow Greenwood Architects LLP, an architecture and interiors firm specializing in performing arts and media spaces. While he noted it had always been another inevitability in his personal and professional journey to spend time in the city, he ultimately decided to continue his architectural studies, examining the relationship between the built and natural landscape, at The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“In New York, I did really get to know myself and really got comfortable being out on my own, but I felt like I wasn’t really ready to practice architecture. I hadn’t found that voice that was uniquely mine and that is what motivated me to take a step back and move to New Mexico and study Native American architecture. Going back to this idea of the ubiquity of midwestern architecture, I really wanted to go to a place where I could study architecture that is true to its place, like true to its natural environment, built from the natural materials, and responding to the natural climate,” Shively said.

“In the case of New Mexico, of the desert, it is one of those unique places in the country—New Orleans also comes to mind—where the architecture really grew out of the place. It was really an inspiring place to spend four years and soak that in,” Shively added.

Returning to the Midwest, Shively said he settled in Chicago which is where he found a passion for residential architecture. Noting, a bit ironically, that he ended up back in the region where he had started out, Shively found inspiration in the architectural legacy of the city—the home of the first skyscraper, notable architects, stylistic movements, and architectural critique—and its relationship with the social, cultural dynamics of the region.

“It has a unique architecture that is maybe less connected to, or less evolved from, the physical place, but definitely from the culture. It’s the home of steel and the skyscraper and it just has a really unique place in architecture,” Shively said.

Shively then spent time as an associate principal at the Evanston, Illinois-based firm of Morgante Wilson Architects Ltd., an award-winning firm that is dedicated to crafting beautiful homes, before branching out on his own. Shively, who finds the most opportunities for ways that architecture can connect people to place and to one another in residential work, said he started his professional career at a really interesting time in the history of workplace culture.

“I spent the first 15 years of my career in a bit of the old school model of top-down management, of architects, especially young architects, notoriously working long hours and paying your dues to get in the door. There has been a whole shift now. There is a much greater respect for people’s work-life balance and really truly valuing everyone’s talents,” Shively said.

“I never impose ‘this is my way to do it,’ but ‘what can I learn from you, even if you are fresh out of school,’ really valuing what everyone can bring to the process and the architecture is better for it. The work that we do in the firm—we were a scrappy little operation just five years ago—is incredible. It is a real testament to those values,” Shively added.

Over the years, En Masse has built a portfolio of work that spans live, work, and play spaces, where modern homes, historic renovations, and design-driven commercial and institutional spaces collide with Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Colonial, Brutalist, and mountain-inspired styles, to name a few. It is a portfolio whose common thread is less vernacular and more personal, reflecting Shively’s desire to understand what the “knot” or reason behind each client’s desire to realize a project—and how that can bring them peace and happiness, while working with a team of creatives who are just as committed to translating the trust fostered with clients into perfect-fit designs.

“I am an architecture history nerd, but I think the history of architecture where major movements like Gothic to Renaissance, or modernism to postmodernism, is over. We now just have this collective history of design that is accessible to everyone and so a postmodern coffee table can exist in the same space as a baroque dresser. I think we can draw the best from our history to make places that are comforting, timeless, and durable. That is something a lot of our clients come to us with, this concept of this is going to take a lot of work and a lot of money, so let’s make it something that is really going to last. That is what I love about residential,” Shively said.

“In terms of challenges and the future, we are at the highest cost of construction imaginable, a lot of folks who were here doing the craft work prior to the pandemic left and labor costs are just astronomical, and it’s not going to change. I think the future is more prefabricated and product-based, so we draw less and source more, we find the right things out there that everyone can see on Instagram and want, but honestly, this younger generation has it. That is why I draw so much inspiration from them. This isn’t the stuff that I can teach them, they are teaching me how the world is running now,” Shively added.


Text: R.J. Weick

Photography: (gallery) Ryan Hainey, Aimee Mazzenga, Ryan McDonald, Mike Schwartz, Courtesy of En Masse Architecture and Design; (profile) M-Buck Studio LLC

First published in Great Lakes By Design: Architectonics, Volume 7, Issue 6


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