Tag Archives: Giacomo Manzu

DETROIT: Wayne State Walkabout

6 Aug

wayne 095

Kris and I consider the campus of Wayne State University to be one of Detroit’s hidden gems. You may have driven by Old Main on Cass Ave, remarked on the attractive building as you passed and not given it a second thought. Most do not realize that a walk through WSU’s campus is a study in Modern architecture. Present day WSU began its existence as a university in 1933 when a combination of Detroit colleges came together to form a single institution. The former Central High School building at Cass and Warren became what is now Old Main; other residential and commercial buildings in the surrounding neighborhood were re-purposed to fill the needs of the college. A master plan for the campus was created in 1942 by yet unknown architect Suren Pilafian; the GI Bill passed in 1944 and enrollment swelled; buildings had to be built. The end of the 1940’s were just the beginning of the Modern architectural style; the tone was set. 

wayne 092 (2)

wayne 075 (1)

wayne 031wayne 025

wayne 079 (1)

In 1948 State Hall, designed by Pilafian was the first building built specifically for the university, followed up by the Community Arts Complex and College of Engineering, all were designed in the Modern style. The names of other contributing architects is pretty much a who’s who list of Modern design; Alden B Dow, Harley, Ellington and Day, Glen Paulson, Albert Kahn, Giacomo Manzu and Minoru Yamasaki. It doesn’t matter if you recognize these names or not; what I want you to know, or, what I’d like you to appreciate, is what an important place Detroit has always been. This city was prominent, wealthy and proud; buildings were designed by the best in the business —– many lived here in metro Detroit. The money was here to attract the best of the best whether in business, music, art or design. Let’s go for a walk…………

wayne 008

wayne 019wayne 004

wayne 001

Our main agenda for the day is to spend some time at the McGregor Conference Center’s newly restored reflecting pool, designed by none other than Minoru Yamasaki. The building was the first of four that Yamasaki would design for WSU between 1957 and 1964, in my opinion it is one of his best. Finished in 1958, the pool had suffered much damage to its foundation through the years, it was drained in the late 90’s; repaired and restored, it received much attention when it was again filled with water in 2013. I knew it would be lovely, but I really wasn’t prepared for just how wonderful it is. It’s large L-shape design and shallow pool project peace and tranquility; large boulders are scattered about the onyx colored bottom, rectangular concrete islands are connected by dark planks. On one end a single figure on a pedestal gazes into the water thoughtfully; Giacomo Manzu’s The Nymph and The Faun bronze sculptures look perfectly at ease on one of the islands; the nymph reclines in the sunshine as she lifts her head to study the crouching faun; this piece was added in 1968. The water is perfectly still, the clouds and blue sky are mirrored on the surface. Large circular white planters add a pop of green to the black and white background. I love the floating staircase that leads from the McGregor to the center island. The College of Education, another Yamasaki building is seen in the distance.

wayne 039

wayne 041 (1)

wayne 084

wayne 058 (1)
We continue our walk through the urban campus on sidewalks, under porticos and through grassy expanses intermixed with concrete plazas, sculptures and sitting areas. The Community Arts Center and Music Building has a very 50’s feel to it, The Shapero Hall of Pharmacy starts out small at ground level and gets bigger with each story; elongated windows look out over raised planters and lush lawn. Alumni House with its smoke colored glass becomes part of the surrounding landscape. Newer buildings have been integrated and seem to fall into place with original structures, it all works together. The Jacob House, built in 1915 in the Mediterranean style is now the residence of the President of WSU, the Chatsworth Tower apartment building is an elegant 9-story building built in 1929, not far from that is the new Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center. After the McGregor, the Helen L DeRoy Auditorium is my favorite building here, also a Yamasaki, it has such great lines; the ribs and eaves create an almost floral design; I hope one day the reflecting pool will be restored. Walking back toward Cass we cross the Meyer and Anna Prentis Building, designed by Yamasaki and built at the same time (1964) as the auditorium, it is distinctly Modern. We pass the former William C Rands residence, a huge stone house designed by George Mason, built in 1913, now used by the university, the Music Annex and finally our car……time for lunch.

wayne 067 (1)

wayne 068

wayne 073 (1)

wayne 086 (1)

Northern Lights Lounge has a new patio; just a short ride from WSU, we are there in no time. It is mid-afternoon and we have the brick patio all to ourselves; newly planted trees take up residence along with pots of colorful annuals. Sandwiched between two buildings and closed off in back by a bright orange fence, the space feels secluded from the rush of the city. We are no strangers to the menu here, so ordering was quick and easy. We relax under the comfort of a large umbrella, sipping our drinks and watching pedestrians pass on Baltimore when our server arrives with lunch. The veggie nachos here are outstanding; white corn tortilla chips covered with two kinds of melted cheese, piled with black beans, tomato, onion, green pepper, black olives and pickled jalapeno, yum! The Julienne Salad is loaded with ham, turkey, swiss, american and a hard-boiled egg scattered over salad greens, we like the homemade ranch dressing. 

wayne 005

wayne 009

Dessert is a great way to end such a nice afternoon, we head over to  Avalon Breads, they always have an excellent selection of sweet treats. We stare at cookies, brownies, sticky buns and scones, then we see the sign: Ice Cream Sandwiches! Choose either Sea Salt Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin cookies, a scoop of Ashby’s Vanilla in the middle and there you have it. Without hesitation we go with the chocolate chip; as the sandwich is being assembled I order an iced coffee and meet Kris back at a table. The cookie is soft and chewy, the vanilla ice cream a perfect complement to the salty and sweet flavor of the cookie….add iced coffee to the mix and you have perfection! 

wayne 021

DETROIT: One Woodward Ave

4 Dec


 With the recent news of  Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures purchasing yet another Detroit landmark, the One Woodward building, we thought you might like to get a closer look.  Residing on the corner of Woodward Ave and Jefferson, this has long been a favorite building of mine. Back in 2010 Kris and I had the enormous pleasure of touring the building with the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, it was fabulous! We don’t normally feature something we did in the past, since there’s little chance we’ll have the opportunity to get up to the former MichCon executive offices again (unless Dan drops us an invite) it’s time for a little trip back in time. C’mon, we’ll show you around. But first, a little history.

mich con 053

mich con 051

mich con 055

Minoru Yamasaki was the design architect, built in 1963 this was his first skyscraper; in fact, it was this building that landed him the job of designing the World Trade Center Towers. Commissioned as the headquarters for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, it was to be an important building; from its prominent location at the foot of the Detroit river to the fact that it was the first high-rise to be constructed in Detroit in nearly 30 years, it would forever change the cityscape. The structure is 430 feet tall with 28 floors, floors 27 and 28 are entirely mechanical. The building is topped with a mechanical penthouse that includes four more floors, lighting incorporated into the top two stories distinguish the tower in the night skyline. From the time the building opened until the early 1980’s, the 26th floor was home to fine dining at “The Top of the Flame”, if you ever ate there, you never forgot it. Kris was lucky enough to have eaten there with his family. The building was known as the MichCon building until 1997, when it was renamed simply “One Woodward” referring to its address. Now, let’s have a look at the place…

mich con 010

mich con 008

mich con 011

The building sits on a raised platform, the lobby walls are recessed, white marble columns create a loggia on all four sides; when I look at it, I think it looks like it is on stilts. The Jefferson Ave entrance is surrounded by lush gardens that were originally reflecting pools; Giacomo Manzu’s bronze sculpture Passo di Danza still greets pedestrians. The loggia floor is the same white marble that continues right into the building. The lobby is stunning; surrounded by 30 ft glass panels it is adorned only by a few planters and a fabulous reception desk; silver in color and circular in shape it is constructed using the same narrow hexagon type panels used throughout the building. Floors and walls the same pristine marble,the ceiling, simple coffered square panels with a recessed light. The feeling is light, airy, clean. Trim on windows and railings are stainless steel polished to the highest shine.

mich con 021

mich con 038

mich con 044

Elevators are located in a short open hallway, doors are ornate in a brocade like pattern and silver-colored. We exit on the 25th floor, it is unoccupied, once home to the executive offices it is now all open space. We are free to wander at our leisure; we discover a white marble fireplace, doors matching the elevator doors, offices are paneled in beautiful teak-looking wood. The view from the President’s office stops us in our tracks, windows go from floor to ceiling, the panoramic view of the city is breathtaking. The windows appear to be narrow with the top and bottom of the openings meeting in an arch of sorts. That’s because the buildings exterior is made up of pre-cast concrete sections that frame the glass in 1 foot 11 inch sections; this look later became Yamasaki’s signature style. Windsor is directly in front of us and seemingly at arm’s length, Hart Plaza sits directly below, it’s a great perspective to see it from. Cobo Arena and the Ambassador Bridge are to our right and to the left I can just make out the Belle Isle bridge. We continue to wander the floor and find ourselves in an office facing Woodward and Campus Martius, the Compuware building resides in the distance. From this height patterns in the landscape become apparent, it is October, the lawn deep green and trees glow a golden-yellow as they enter into Autumn. Every window offers a slightly different scene, we look out at the upper section of the Penobscot and Guardian, the Spirit of Detroit looks quite small from this height, on the other hand the Renaissance Center with all of its towers looms large. 

mich con 029

mich con 026

mich con 015

mich con 032

They say that currently the building is 60% occupied, but that number will grow as new workers move in. It is an exciting time for Detroit as it enters this new chapter; more and more people are working downtown and living downtown. New business are sprouting up all over to accommodate the influx of new life. Detroit seems to be coming into its own, again………….