The Beginning of MWA

MWA is celebrating 35 years since Michael Willis opened Michael Willis and Associates, Architects.

For the past 35 years, MWA has been striving to create a legacy of beautiful and sustainable architecture that positively impacts the world.

It’s easy to state who we are today. What is more difficult to convey is the journey that led us to this point. Who shaped MWA into a mission-based firm? What projects pushed us to believe that our work can make an impact? Who advocated for us, so that we may now advocate for others?

We invite you to join us as we walk through our journey, appreciating the path that led us to where we are today. Let’s start at the beginning.


In 1988, Michael Willis felt confident in the connections he had made in San Francisco and St. Louis, and was ready to begin an adventure of his own.

With a new project at Stanford, Michael knew that his first step was to build a team. He went to the AIA to peruse resumes, and to his amusement, there was a young man in running gear who stopped by to post his resume on the board. Michael said that the young man seemed “inquisitive, and he had a real sense of what he wanted to do, and why he wanted to do it.” Appreciating these qualities, Michael followed Jeff McGraw out of the building and offered him an interview on the spot.

Spoiler alert – he aced it.

Beginning as Michael Willis and Associates, Architects, the two-person firm set out for their first project: a Seismic Renovation of Roble Hall at Stanford Campus.

Working from their first office, located at 33 New Montgomery in San Francisco, CA, there were three desks leased from an interiors firm, GHI. They saw this as an opportunity for growth.

In 1991, MWA interviewed for two large projects, Upper San Leandro and Sobrante, with East Bay Municipal Utilities District. This is what Michael refers to as the “best interview of all time.” When asked how many people worked at MWA during the interview, Michael wouldn’t give them a number. He told them that “we can get the work done, and that is all that matters.” We had four people. When EBMUD awarded us the project, we immediately hired six more people and continued to grow exponentially
from there.

Each project, client, teaming partner, and coworker since then has shaped our story to what it is today; 35 years of great projects and lasting relationships.

Continuing the Journey

Join us as we continue to tell our story through a five-part blog series. Part two – The Expansion of MWA – will be released next week.

Want a sneak peek into our entire history? Visit our History Booklet for the full story.

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