Dwayne MacEwen began building homes on the Island as a child with his dad. Now, the 54-year-old former P.E.I. resident is making architectural waves around the world.
MacEwen's firm recently completed a $90-million health club project, complete with a spa and pool, in Chicago. His firm, DMAC Architecture of Chicago, has also constructed restaurants for basketball star Michael Jordan in Illinois and Oregon and worked with tennis star Venus Williams on a fitness complex in Chicago.
He's also worked on large-scale projects including a medical campus in London, an Olympic pool in Barcelona, an expansion of a health club in Montreal and a casino restaurant and lounge in Pittsburgh.
"Sometimes I have to pinch myself, how did I get here from P.E.I.?" MacEwen said in an interview from his Chicago home.
I'm not afraid to take a power tool out of a contractor's hand if they say it can't be done. — Dwayne MacEwen, DMAC Architecture
"We're now doing this crazy project … it's an automotive country club being built inside a private airport 11 miles from South Beach in Miami. Honestly, flying around with the owner, going to different tracks in New Orleans and all over the country and just sort of experiencing that and now we're responsible for 100 per cent of the architecture in that club."
Inks deal with major airline
His firm was recently awarded what he described as a "David and Goliath" deal with a major airline. His DMAC Architecture, with 18 architects, was going up against firms with hundreds of architects on staff. His firm will be working on a rebranding of the airline's lounges.
MacEwen said he was more in the way than anything else when he started working with his late father, John MacEwen, as a child. His mom, Dorothy MacEwen, still lives in the family home in New Dominion.
But by 16 that had all changed. He'd purchased his first pickup truck and built his first home. By the time he graduated from high school, he had built a second home.
He studied engineering at UPEI before attending the Technical University of Nova Scotia, now part of Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he received his bachelor of environmental design studies and his masters of architecture.
He said his P.E.I. roots and his experience with his dad on construction sites make him a better architect.
"I'm not afraid to take a power tool out of a contractor's hand if they say it can't be done," he said.
"If they say they can't miter a tile, I will show up at the next meeting with one that is perfectly mitered and executed by an architect."
'I learn more from criticism'
Not being afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done has also helped him land some high-profile clients.
One of Michael Jordan's business partners connected MacEwen to the basketball star. He's now worked on a number of projects with Jordan, though he says the former NBA player has only been at a few meetings.
"I asked Michael, what does he think? He said, 'I love it. It's great.' I said to him I learn more from criticism than praise, what don't you like?" he recalled.
"In Michael's trash-talking ways, he said, 'Don't worry I would tell you what I didn't like if there was something I didn't like.' It was sort of nice to get that accolade from somebody that would definitely trash talk back if there was something he didn't like about the work that we did."
MacEwen's DMAC Architecture has also worked with tennis star Venus Williams.
Williams is well-known in design circles. She is an interior design aficionado and even operates her own firm, V Starr Interiors. She played at a club that MacEwen redesigned. The two had a chance meeting.
Next thing he knew, Williams was designing a tennis lounge at a hotel project he was working on.
'She only talked about architecture'
"She didn't talk that she was Venus Williams and everything she said was important," MacEwen said. "She only talked about architecture and design."
MacEwen has a summer home and cottage business on the Island. He hasn't had a chance to work on a major architectural project on the Island.
That is something he'd like to change, he said.
"I probably get back four or five times a year," said MacEwen.
"Before I went into architecture school, I think one of the projects that maybe got me in was I did a small renovation for some of the Murphy's at Gentleman Jim's. I think it was Danny Murphy at the time that wrote me a nice letter of reference."
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