Woman known as The Keweenaw’s Architect


Karin Cooper's design came to life in Portage Lake District Library in Houghton.


For the Mining Gazette

Karin Cooper is a woman who has risen to the top in a profession where men outnumber women three to one–architecture. And her gender actually has been an advantage, not a roadblock, says Cooper, project architect at U.P. Engineers and Architects (UPEA).

“The contractors and construction workers that I have worked with have shown respect,” she says. “In fact, being a woman may be an advantage. I have not been subject to crass or demeaning behavior.”

Being female has not prevented Cooper from rising to leadership roles in the companies she has worked for either. Before joining UPEA, she worked as lead architect and project manager at Hitch Inc. in Houghton and even served on the company’s board.

Michigan Tech’s Lakeshore Center is one of Karin Cooper’s highly visible projects.

Cooper is a licensed architect in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. She holds LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) and BD+C (Building Design and Construction) certification.

“Karin is a great architect,” says Jeff West, president of UPEA. “Her project vision and understanding of the client’s needs are what make her exceptional.”

Cooper has always enjoyed solving problems, and she also enjoys being creative. As an engineering major in college, she kept choosing drawing and painting classes as electives. Then the light came on for her. Architecture was the profession she wanted to pursue. “Being an architect allows me to combine my aptitude for math with my desire to draw and be creative,” she explains.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Design, Cooper has worked on fire stations, businesses, churches, schools and residences throughout the Upper Peninsula.

She is especially proud of the Portage Lake District Library, built in 2006 in downtown Houghton.

L'Anse Fire Station is one of Karin Cooper's designs.

“It was a challenge to create a welcoming space that was confined by the recreation trail on one side and the canal on the other side, forcing the entrance to the east end,” she says. She wanted to create a sequence of spaces in the interior, while opening the walls with large windows, so patrons and staff alike could enjoy the view of the waterway and the historic Quincy Smelter complex. “The colors and textures of the masonry and the mullion pattern in the windows are intended as an homage to the Carnegie Library,” she explains. Since the construction of the Houghton Pier and removal of the parking decks, she says, “I am proud of the way the sawtooth edge on the north side draws attention to the library on the walkway.”

Another project that stands out for her is a house addition she designed in Eagle Harbor. “An octogenarian couple wanted to turn their summer cottage into a year-round residence,” she recalls. “The addition and renovations fulfilled their needs as a sight-challenged woman and a man with decreasing mobility. The addition blends beautifully with the small scale and charm of the original cottage.”

Fire stations in L’Anse, Hancock and Franklin Township are also her designs, as are school building projects in Calumet, Dollar Bay, Stanton and Adams Townships; commercial projects including Roy’s Bakery in Houghton, Michigan Tech’s Lakeshore Center and the Baraga County Credit Union. She also designed the new Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock and the new Superior National Bank building in L’Anse, both currently under construction.

“Her ability to understand a client’s project goals and to help them achieve those goals is outstanding, as is her strong knowledge of building codes and her historical architectural background.” says West. 

Cooper has some advice for young women considering a career as an architect. “Follow the path that is paved by things you enjoy and things that interest you, and it will lead you to a rewarding career. Talk to people in the profession. Ask if you can visit them at their workplace. Absorb as much learning as you can in school and in life. And wherever you end up, show respect to your colleagues and the people you engage with.”

Karin Cooper


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