Amy Van Beek has built residential neighborhoods, designed commercial office buildings, co-founded an off-the-grid community, and equipped corporate and government buildings with high-tech renewable energy systems. She’s earned a reputation as one of the top green building experts in the Midwest, and has been featured in the news and on TV.
So how did a MUM fine arts grad who was a children’s book illustrator end up at the center of multimillion-dollar building projects?
Amy got her start in 2004 when her dad, philanthropist and real estate developer Doug Greenfield, began construction of several homes near the MUM campus in Fairfield, Iowa. When he was called away unexpectedly, he asked her to help out on the project.
“I thought it would be a great way to make some extra money and do some traveling,” says Amy, who had just completed a BFA in painting at MUM. She took to the work immediately. “I fell in love with running a construction project from start to finish, managing the tasks, taking the design work to completion, shepherding it the way to through the sales process. It brought me more joy than anything I’d ever done.”
Soon after, Amy co-founded Greenfield Properties with her dad, and she began designing and constructing housing developments and commercial properties around Fairfield, focused on using sustainable practices, non-toxic materials, and renewable energy technology whenever possible. She built Campus Cottages, The Ideal Building, Utopia Village residences, and homes in nearby Vedic City.
But perhaps the most satisfying project of all was Abundance EcoVillage, an off-the-grid community that allowed Amy to go deeply into cutting-edge sustainable building practices. Working with co-founders Michael Havelka and Lonnie Gamble, she helped to build a subdivision of homes that derive all their power from solar and wind energy.
Today, Amy is busy expanding Ideal Energy, Inc., a renewable energy design firm she co-founded with her husband, Troy Van Beek, an ex-U.S. Navy Seal turned sustainable builder (and an MUM graduate in 2006). Ideal Energy brings clean energy to businesses and government clients in Iowa and across the U.S. Projects often involve installing solar panels such the array (photo, above) at Fairfield’s AmyRam Building. Amy and Troy were married in Bali in 2012.
Amy’s Earth-conscious solutions are always practical and often ingenious. One of her projects required demolishing a building — at an estimated cost of $100,000, and would have included most of it going to a landfill. But she invited in the local Amish instead, who dismantled it manually in exchange for its scrap metal.
“It was wild to see,” recalls Amy. “About 20 Amish showed up and they took the building apart by hand using no power tools. In the end, we spent about $10,000 on the final demolition which consisted of removing the concrete slab from the ground.”
Though Amy had grown up in Fairfield, her route to studying at MUM wasn’t a direct one. She first spent a year at a respected art academy in Connecticut, but with not so great results.
“I remember being shocked about their attitudes regarding creative work. The view of some of my professors was that being creative comes out of a place of suffering,” she says. “Frankly, I was stressed out there. Everything was a struggle.”
Amy decided to return to Fairfield, transferring into a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at MUM.
“The philosophy at MUM is that you’re most creative when your physiology is well rested and you’re contacting the infinite source of creativity on a daily basis,” she says. “I remember having so many ideas I had trouble keeping track of them. I loved the nature of the routine that they had structured, which helps in taking really good care of yourself.”