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

Mid-Century Southfield

13 Nov

southy 004

The metropolitan Detroit area is home to an extensive variety of 20th Century architecture. Today we are meeting up with the Southfield Historical Society and DoCoMoMo for the Mid-Century Modern Southfield Tour. In 1954 Northland Mall opened in the city of Southfield, it was one of the first shopping malls in the nation; with the mall in place and easy access to major freeways the city became very attractive to corporations and residents alike. Between 1940 and 1950 the population of the area had increased 200%, during the 1960’s Southfield was Michigan’s fastest growing city. It was post WWII, people were feeling adventurous, architecture had taken on a new look, buildings were designed in new shapes, using new materials such as glass, aluminum and concrete, natural light filled open spaces. Come along as we discover Southfield’s amazing collection of Mid-Century Modern buildings.

southy 012

southy 022

southy 017

Our tour begins at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Bell Rd. Built in 1961-62, the congregation hired Percival Goodman of New York to partner with Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit to design the synagogue; now considered a masterpiece of Modern design. We are led into the sanctuary, it is a large space that seats 1,100; the triangular shape is symbolic of Mt. Sinai, behind the altar stained glass forms an inner triangle, the sun shines directly on the glass; rich red, deep blues, yellow and brown are aglow. Central to the altar a metal sculpture of the burning bush hangs on a tall marble tower, letter blocks on each side represent the tablets. A representative of the church explains the symbolism of what we are seeing, she then opens the door of the Ark revealing the Torah; dressed with a sash, ornaments and a Keter (crown) they are beautiful, magnificent and to me, mysterious. Modern nuances are found throughout, gone is the blonde wood of the 1950’s, deeper brown has taken its place, rectangular cut-outs in the walls are filled with blue glass panels. The walls of the sanctuary are retractable, when opened it creates one large room that can seat 4,000 people. We exit the sanctuary and pass through the inner court, glass showcases display religious items belonging to the congregation, the pieces are lovely. The Chapel is a much more intimate space, also triangular-shaped, the ceiling is made up of exposed wood beams, walls are brick, windows are stained glass and triangular in shape, it feels a bit more private, cozy. It is time to load the bus for the rest of the tour.

southy_008_(1)southy 035

southy 034

southy 031

Traveling down Northwestern Hwy we pass a number of Modern structures built between the late 1950’s and mid 1960’s. The driver pulls over to give us an up-close view of the Federal Mogul World Headquarters building, built in 1965 it is designed in the International style, large glass walls are encased in an open white frame. Originally the third and fourth floors appeared to ‘float’ above the ground level of the building, through the years multiple changes and additions have altered the original design. Further on, the Eaton Automotive building, built in 1965 screams mid-century design with its recessed first level and large front portico. The bus parks, we are at the former Northland Theater, built in 1966, it is one of the last theaters in Michigan to be built to seat 1,500 patrons in a single auditorium. Looking at the front entrance I can totally imagine it when it was still a theater. As we approach the building, dozens of folks are exiting, currently the home of the Southfield branch of Triumph Church, the service has just ended. Going against the flow of people we eventually make our way inside, the lobby and auditorium have changed very little; the concession stand now sells cd’s and other items related to the church, a new paint job, a few updates, but still clearly evident it was once a thriving movie theater.


southy 037

We arrive at 16200 Northland Drive, the Minoru Yamasaki designed Reynolds Aluminum Regional Office. Built in 1959, it was said to be “an ode to aluminum”. One look at the exterior and there is no doubt it is a Yamasaki, three stories tall, the second and third floor float atop a terrazzo pedestal, gold anodized aluminum grills in the shape of circles wrap the upper floors. The building is sitting vacant, in 1984 Vic Tanny Health Clubs purchased the building; the walls of the first floor were pushed out to the perimeter and a swimming pool was installed, reflecting ponds were filled in, exercise equipment was set up on the upper floors. The exterior of the building looks to be in good condition, inside I am taken aback at what has transpired; the indoor pool sits empty, a drop ceiling directly above, cubicles have been set up and are now vacant. We take the stairs to the third floor, it appears a running track traces the perimeter of the building, the space is divided, by the looks of the color and design, many of the walls are original. We enter a large empty room, here we have a wonderful view of the aluminum grills; the top two rows are thicker circles, the rest are narrow and overlap. The central atrium remains, at the top a large skylight made of a series of pyramids is intact, it must have been a showstopper when the building was new. We spend our remaining time in the building noticing some of the small details that remain. The building has been vacant since 2012 and is currently for sale; as someone who admires Yamasaki’s work, it is tough to see what has become of this once graceful embodiment of Mid-Century design.

southy 055

southy 044

southy 063

southy 052

Our route continues past many more Modern buildings, Sphinx Petroleum, Abrecht, Chand and Trowell. We travel Northwestern Hwy, Evergreen and Southfield Rd before arriving in the Cranbrook Neighborhood. The Lockwood Company of Detroit constructed homes in the California Modern Style, modest ranch homes usually between 1,450 and 1,650 sq ft. The bus parks on Lone Elm, three homeowners have given permission for us to wander around the outside of their homes, these are iconic examples of Modern design; low sloping roofs, large front windows, planter boxes, courtyards and see-through garden walls. The owners have done a marvelous job maintaining the home’s character and design. This is the end of the tour; the bus drops us off at the Synagogue, we are long overdue for lunch.

southy 077

southy 075

southy 072

Jerusalem Pizza has been serving the finest kosher pizza for over 14 years, this is our first visit. We stand inside reading the pizza selections off a menu posted high behind the counter, nothing is harder then deciding what to order when you are starving! With help from the man behind the register we choose a Cholent pizza, a salad and a salt bagel to eat immediately. With our jackets on it is still warm enough to eat outdoors; we have a seat at a wrought iron table on the sidewalk and tear into the bagel, slightly crispy, tender inside, salty and flavorful, we agree it is the best bagel we have ever eaten. The pizza arrives, cheese is bubbly and browned on the edges, toppings consist of Dijon mustard, beans, vegetarian ground beef, potato and kishke, everything works in combination to create a crispy, chewy, tasty pizza. When we have finished, we go back inside, grab a few more bagels and hit the road.

southy 086

southy 083

DETROIT: Design Festival

14 Oct


Detroit is no stranger to design, consider this; some of the 20th century’s most notable architects, sculptors and designers called Detroit home:Louis Kamper, Wirt Rowland, Albert Kahn, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, Marshall Fredericks, Julius Melchers, Carl Milles, Corrado Parducci and Isamu Noguchi, now that’s impressive. The architecture in Detroit is recognized as being among the finest in the country. The city was home to men of wealth and power; Ford, Dodge, Hecker, Fisher, Hudson, Kresge, Scripps, Whitney and  Lindbergh to name a few. There was money, lots of money; when things were built they were made of the finest materials, the rich hired the men that created the face of the city. The Detroit Institute of Arts, to this day, remains one of the top art museums in the US and CCS one of the best design schools. This city has always embraced art and design, over the last few years we have experienced a new momentum and Detroit has become known as an epicenter of the art scene.

designfest 069

designfest 064

designfest 058

The 2012 Detroit Design Festival took place September 19-23, we couldn’t wait to get downtown and check out all it had to offer. The list of activities was enormous, impossible to see in one visit, but one was all we had, we crammed as much as we could into one night. We began with the Grand River Creative Corridor, which of course, took place on Grand River, between Rosa Parks Blvd and Warren Ave. Earlier in the year Derek Weaver, managing director of 4731 Gallery, hired local graffiti muralist Sintex to do three pieces on his building; why stop there? What kind of impact would it have on the area if you kept going down the street? They decided to find out; enlisting help from other Detroit based artists the project grew to 50 murals on 15 buildings, Wow! As we drove down Grand River we were awestruck, one scene after another, eventually we came to the last one and parked. You can’t fully absorb and appreciate the works unless you get out on foot to take it all in. The images are bold and colorful, the detail precise; some are amusing, others dark and a bit scary. A huge cartoon bolt greets passing traffic and lets them know this building is home to a nut and bolt manufacturer. Murals feature imaginary characters from alley cats to sinister beings, settings range from eerie cityscapes to bright splashes of color; the graffiti has become a welcome tourist attraction. As we headed back to the car we noticed  many camera toting tourists on the sidewalk, the plan seems to be working.

designfest 018

designfest 049

designfest 030

We arrived at Slow’s to Go on Cass with just enough time to grab a quick sandwich before our next activity. We placed our order and took a seat by a window; seating is limited as this is basically a take-out place. Before long our meal was ready, packed neatly in a brown paper bag we unloaded it immediately and went to work. You can’t go wrong with the Longhorn sandwich; tender beef brisket sliced and piled high on Texas toast topped with melted cheese, onion marmalade and spicy bbq sauce, love it! The house salad is quite good topped with the honey jalapeno vinaigrette and no visit to Slow’s would be complete without a side of mac and cheese. The food disappeared in record time and we were off again.

designfest 079

Next we were scheduled to take a tour of Minoru Yamasaki’s buildings on the campus of WSU; since September 11, 2001 Yamasaki is probably best known as the architect of the World Trade Center Towers. In the early days of his career he was hired by the prestigious Detroit firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls. He was a man of vision, in 1949 he started his own firm Yamasaki & Associates; he stayed here for the rest of his life. Our tour began at the McGregor Memorial Conference Center on Ferry Mall, we had never been inside so this would be a new experience. Before our guide arrived we had a chance to look around, completed in 1958 it has a definite mid-century feel to it. Two-stories tall, the front and back entrances are glass, the ceiling is a skylight made up of glass and a series of triangular designs. Just inside the entrance an overhead bridge connects the two sides of this symmetrical structure. The triangular theme continues throughout the open space. The floors and stairs are marble, railings are stainless steel polished to the highest shine. Our guide was a wealth of information, he was actually an associate of Yamasaki’s, he worked with him for many years. He provided us with great detail on the building’s construction, he was filled with stories of his days spent at the firm. Darkness had fallen while we were inside; once outdoors we looked at the building in a new perspective, all lit up more attention is drawn to the metal screens that lay over the entrance doors, the building sets on a marble platform, columns rise up from the ground ending in a triangular pattern at the top. The original reflecting pools and sunken gardens that wrap around two sides of the building are currently being restored, we will definitely be back to see them when they are finished.

designfest 088

designfest 092

Nearby is the Education building, completed in 1960 the exterior is classic Yamasaki; again we have columns and a repeated geometric pattern, this time a hexagon. Since the space was used for classrooms the interior lacks the finer detail found in his public buildings. We walked across campus to the DeRoy Auditorium; opened in 1964 it was built to serve the business school and is used as a lecture hall. This nearly square building is also surrounded by a reflecting pool, though currently empty. I have always admired the buildings facade; reaching up two stories it is windowless, cast concrete panels with raised ribs resemble Calla Lillies, at ground level the ribs project out about four inches, gradually increasing to almost two feet at the top, it is a striking effect. Inside is a small entrance lobby to the auditorium itself. Downstairs is a tunnel that connects the auditorium to Prentis Hall, also designed by Yamasaki. Located on Cass Ave across from the main branch of the Detroit Public Library the business school also opened in 1964. My favorite part is the wide walk-through that separates the north and south wings of the structure allowing us to look through to the mall and the auditorium. I highly recommend a walk through campus!

designfest 098

bikin' 006

designfest 110

Time was ticking by, we jumped back in the car to check out Eastern Market After Dark. It was a Thursday night and people were everywhere; boutiques and galleries were open late, a fashion show was in full swing under shed number two. Over on Winder Street the Red Bull House of Art Detroit was a hub of activity. The building, originally the home of E & B Brewery has been turned into lofts on the upper levels and an amazing gallery on the first and lower level.  For the next three years a new group of eight artists will take over the studio cubes every eight to ten weeks. Red Bull covers the cost of artists materials serving as an incubation project for up and coming artists. As awesome as the main floor is, the basement is way cool; the underground space was once a prohibition hide-a-way. As we head down the stairs it is dark, almost feeling our way through until we come to huge brick archways lit by LED lights casting a glow of red and blue. At the end of the hall   we are immersed into a brightly lit room that serves as a second large gallery, what a unique place. After we got a good look at the artwork it was back outside; we followed the crowd around the corner to a couple of other open galleries, most places were filled with people shoulder to shoulder, curious and eager to see what the creative community is up to. 

designfest 114

designfest 123

designfest 116

The Detroit Design Festival is a community curated and supported festival highlighting the talents of the local creative community. Put on by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) they form a partnership between CCS and Michigan business leaders. DC3 believes Detroit has all the assets to be a global center of design and creative innovation; I couldn’t agree more.

designfest 135

designfest 128

designfest 132