What’s up in… Michigan?!

By Rebecca Price
Architecture, Urban Planning & Visual Resources Librarian
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
rpw@umich.edu

Maybe it was the turn of the millennium, maybe it’s seeing landmarks of the 20th century fade and decay, or maybe it’s the communal nostalgia of thousands of baby-boomers; but whatever the cause, the last decade has brought with it a deliberate look back at the early years of  modern design in Michigan.  Although perhaps best known for automobiles and breakfast cereal, Michigan was a breeding ground of furniture, product, and architectural design throughout the mid-century modern period.

General Motors Technical Center; Eero Saarinen;
Warren, Michigan; 1949-1953. Photo by Edward Olencki, 1962.

Post-war manufacturing and the coincident economic boom brought designers and architects to the state. The Cranbrook Academy of Art, founded in 1926, was by the late 1930s attracting many notable international designers to teach including Eliel Saarinen, Florence Knoll, Carl Milles, and Charles Eames. Other architects came to teach at the University of Michigan College of Architecture or had offices in the Detroit area and still others took on corporate and residential commissions across the state resulting in works by Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Erich Mendolsohn, and Minoru Yamasaki. Furniture and design companies such as Herman Miller and Steelcase, based in western Michigan, drew many designers to their ranks, including architect George Nelson, and produced such notable works as the marshmallow sofa, the Noguchi table, and the Eames Lounge Chair (and perhaps less desirably, the cubicle or Action Office, offering flexibility and an improvement on earlier office environments).


Lafayette Towers with Pavilion Apartments; Mies van der Rohe; Detroit, 1962.
Photo by Edward Olencki, 1963.

Interest in this period was substantiated by a Preserve America grant awarded in 2008 by the National Park Service to the State Historic Preservation Office.  The award spawned Michigan Modern, whose aim is “to document and promote Michigan’s architectural and design heritage from 1940-1970″ (though they soon learned that those dates were too limiting and the focus has broadened to include earlier contributions).

Michigan Consolidated Gas Company; Minoru Yamasaki;
Detroit; 1963. Photo by Edward Olencki, 1963.

Michigan Modern has an informative website rich with information about architects and designers who practiced or produced work in Michigan in the years just before WWII and up to the 1970s.  Visitors to the site can browse or search for designers and their work and will see photographs, as well as archival and bibliographic citations to guide them further in their research.  One can also download or print beautifully produced walking, biking, or driving tour guides of mid-century modern architecture in various cities in Michigan.

Michigan Modern generates an annual exhibition and symposium called Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America.  This year the symposium will be held at the Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids from June 19-21.

This statewide initiative is echoed by local groups, which focus their attention on mid-century modernism in their communities.  An example of this is A2modern based in Ann Arbor. The group of homeowners, architects, and enthusiasts advocates for the awareness and appreciation of modern architecture in our midst. Their website is becoming a place to document and showcase modernist architecture in the area and their outreach efforts include hosting tours and lectures for the community.

palmerhousewrightPalmer House; Frank Lloyd Wright; 1951; Ann Arbor.

baconhousebrighamBacon House; George Brigham; 1952; Ann Arbor.

refchurchbirkertsUniversity Reformed Church; Gunnar Birkerts; 1963; Ann Arbor.

Images are from the University of Michigan Art, Architecture & Engineering Library Digital Image Collection. Contact imageworks@umich.edu for more information.

Beyond the School: Library Alumni Relations at NSAD

By Lucy Campbell

At the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, library alumni relations are being more tightly integrated into our outreach activities.  We began by partnering with the NSAD Alumni Association to find out how we could better serve them. Many recent alumni are young professionals seeking to pass the Architectural Registration Examinations (AREs), and one need they identified was for study resources. ARE study guides can be expensive, but the association agreed to acquire guides and gift them to the library for alumni use so that the guides could be used by more people. Over $2,000 of the study materials are now available and have proved very popular. In fact, an Alumni Study Group has formed which meets one evening each week in the library.

The ARE study guides are a great resource for our alumni.  Not only are they a savings for us emerging professionals, but the library offers a variety of formats – from flashcards to manuals and practice vignettes – both Kaplan and Ballast!  They helped me pass my first exam within a year of graduating.

-Lauren Pasion, class of 2013

Alumni Study Group
Alumni Study Group

We then looked to our Director of Alumni Relations for fresh ideas and together organized an Alumni Book Drive. Held in honor of our Librarian who was retiring after 9 years, the Book Drive was hugely successful, culminating in a beautiful reception. Over $2,500 worth of books was received, representing a significant addition to the library and giving alumni a sense of ownership in our collection. Each book includes a book plate with the donor’s name, class year and an inscription that offers an institutional memory.

The library in an architecture and design school is a special place for students, a place to escape the hubbub of studio and the criticism of juries.  As an alum many of my happiest memories are of poring over large-format books in the library, absorbing art and architecture away from my desk and computer.  As the school has grown, so has the library facility, and many alumni have been thrilled to see the growth of their favorite book nook into a fantastic and well-stocked resource.  From book drives to support a retiring librarian to ARE study events at the library, alumni have enjoyed giving back to their school and to a place from which they’ve received so much. 

-Peter Soutowood, President of the NSAD Alumni Association

These initiatives are not only mutually beneficial for libraries and graduates, but also serve to strengthen ties between the institution and the professionals. We are excited to continue the relationship and maintain the momentum to develop new partnerships.

The library’s support of NewSchool of Architecture + Design’s Alumni  is invaluable and allows for continued learning and knowledge acquisition, providing access to information, services and resources which is a pivotal part of the Alumni’s continued education.

-Megan Francis, NSAD Alumni Services

Alumni Book Drive reception at NSAD
Alumni Book Drive reception at NSAD

The library hopes to make the alumni book drive an annual event, and is dedicated to ensuring we serve every student, whether past or current.

Lucy Campbell is the Library Director at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, California. Originally from the UK, she received her MLIS from University College London (UCL) in 2010.

The Experiences of One Filmmaker After Architecture School: An Interview with Omar Kakar

By Cathryn Ziefle

Woodbury University’s School of Architecture in San Diego is a small branch campus serving 100 undergraduate students, 25 graduate students, and five full time faculty. It offers a five year B.Arch and three professional graduate degrees. The library boasts a collection of 5,000 monographs, 30 periodicals, iPads, flipcams, a GoPro, and more. In 2011, the library created a film-editing station that consisted of a 27” iMac and Final Cut Pro, professional film editing software. The only problem was no one really knew how to use it. Until one dynamic student, Omar Kakar, made it his mission. He quickly became our local film guru and his world opened up to opportunities that would have otherwise not been available to him. Kakar graduated in May 2013 but remains an alumnus dedicated to the library. Below is an interview with him about the impact the library and the film-editing station had on his studies and career thus far.

Omar Kakar, Woodbury University Alumni
Omar Kakar, Woodbury University Alumnus

What has life been like after architecture school?

Very busy actually, with the exception of taking a month off to travel parts of Eastern Europe, most of the summer has been dedicated to personal projects like finessing a short film and developing a design submission for an architecture competition in Italy.

What are your plans in the future?

Become a film director… then become an architect, design and build a meaningful project, then make a film about that building and the experience.  Brad Pitt or George Clooney can play my character.

What do you like best about the library at Woodbury University San Diego?

Besides the air conditioning, it is my escape from studio. I need to marinate with my own thoughts before I can begin a design project. My peers tend to jump right into it, constructing and drawing objects without a significant origin of purpose, doing just for the sake of doing. The library gets me away from that environment and provides me with the quiet meditative state of mind that I need before I inject myself back into the chaos.

How did you use the WUSD library while in architecture school?

“Use” would be putting it lightly; I was practically living in the library. Architecture books are very hard to find and are very expensive, so I made sure to always keep my nose in a book or periodical. At the same time I’ve spent many countless hours in the library’s edit bay creating short films.

Has your use of the WUSD library changed since graduation?

Yes, because I no longer attend as a student my use to the library has been restricted.  However the faculty and administration have worked with me to allow me access.

Do you think the WUSD library could do anything to better serve alumni?

Perhaps portfolios that people can check out? Just thinking that maybe alumni and current students can find themselves working on a project because of how someone came in looking for person of particular skill set and found them through the library’s collection of portfolios.

Why do you think it is important for architecture schools to incorporate filmmaking into their curriculum?

Filmmakers use architecture all the time in film and they use it very well. Without having to say anything they can inform the audience through the story of moving images, the location, space, time, and even the mood with the architecture. But on the flip side, architects and architecture students use film very poorly. A “fly through” is not effective filmmaking; it’s too cold, lacks a narrative, and your audience has nothing to relate to. Except if you’re a bird.

Why do you think it is important for architecture libraries to have information on film and/or film equipment?

To me film is the superior medium of information technology in our current state in time. If you can’t actually see a place (or building) in person, then film is the next closest information tool that can give you that experience. Students can learn through film, it’s so simple, you learn by just watching.

Has your experience with filmmaking benefited you after graduation?

Yes, I’ve received offers, such as to create commercials for small startup clothing lines, as well as interest from other architects to film short documentaries on their projects. It is bitter sweet though; I do not have a camera of my own, a bit ironic… “a filmmaker without a camera?” Through the library and the help of a good friend I have been borrowing equipment. I’ve always loved film and as of recent film has returned the favor. I love architecture as well, but she shows me no love. She won’t even return my calls. I may have to leave architecture for film.

As an alumnus, if you could give one suggestion to architecture librarians what would it be?

Architecture school is notorious for its all-nighters and studio deadlines, if the day comes when you encounter a sleep deprived, half living individual that did not just come from a critique, then they’re not an architecture student. They’re a zombie, run for your life!

Pythia (2013), Thesis Degree Project

Step-Back Moment (2012), Short Film

From Coast to Desert: Two California Modernists

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Hass Residence, Carmel, 1969. Mark Mills Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

By Peter Runge and Laura Sorvetti.  Edited by Jesse Vestermark.

Special Collections at the Robert E. Kennedy Library, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo collects records documenting the architecture and built environment of California. These collections are used by a wide variety of researchers and support the scholarship of the students and faculty of the university. Included are the records of architects Mark Mills and William F. Cody, two  Mid-Century Modern architects of California.

Mark Mills

Mark Mills (1921 – 2007) quietly and steadily established himself as a highly regarded, if not well-known, architect of the Big Sur/Carmel area of the Central Coast of California from the 1950s to the early 2000s. After graduating from the University of Colorado in 1944, Mills worked for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, eventually leaving to design and build an experimental geodesic dome in the desert of central Arizona with Paolo Soleri.

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Project drawing, Hass Residence, Carmel, 1969. Mark Mills Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Shortly thereafter, Mills retreated to the lush and rugged landscape of Big Sur and Carmel, California, where he designed and built over forty custom homes and buildings that are both inspired by and reflect the landscape in which they reside. The distinctive and organic Hass house in Otter Cove captures the structural elegance and reverence for space that characterized Mills’ design aesthetic.

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Architect Mark Mills. Mark Mills Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The Mark Mills Papers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo include correspondence, photographs, bound presentation portfolios of his published work, and architectural drawings, primarily for single-family residences.  For more information and images regarding Mills, refer to this previous blog post: Coastal Modern: Architect Mark Mills.

William F. Cody

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Presentation drawing, Cameron Residence, Thunderbird Country Club, Rancho Mirage, 1950. William F. Cody Papers 2, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

A contemporary of Mark Mills working in Southern California, William F. Cody, FAIA (1916-1978) was an influential Desert Modern architect who practiced in Palm Springs at the peak of the Modernist movement. Between 1946 and 1973, Cody maintained a diverse practice in California’s Coachella Valley, designing country clubs, residences, hotels, and church projects.

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Project drawing, Moncrief Residence, Thunderbird North, Palm Springs, 1955-56. William F. Cody Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Cody’s specialization in country club clubhouses with related residential developments helped to define the Palm Springs landscape of the 1960s. His residential projects emphasized key elements of Modernism: simplicity of form, natural light, and large windows offering a seamless connection between residential interiors and the outdoors.

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Huddle’s The Springs Restaurant, Cameron Shopping Center, Palm Springs, 1957. William F. Cody Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, two substantial collections—the William F. Cody Papers and the William F. Cody Papers 2 —contain a wide range of records, including student work, architectural drawings and plans, office records, public relations materials, photographs (including photographs by Julius Shulman), correspondence, and project files.  The bulk of these document his practice from 1946 to the mid-1970s, when a stroke limited his career.

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Presentation drawing of proposed Racquet Club Cottages West, Palm Springs, 1960. William F. Cody Papers, Special Collections, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.