About The Project

Michigan Modern is a project being undertaken by Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to document the state’s Modern design heritage.

After World War II, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, under the leadership of architect Eliel Saarinen, attracted some of the world’s best designers and artists. Coupled with the wealth and design tradition of Michigan’s booming automobile industry; the adoption of Modernist principles by the University of Michigan College of Architecture; the innovative design leadership of West Michigan’s furniture industry led by Herman Miller, Inc.; and the strong base of pre-Modern work in Michigan by architects such as Alden B. Dow and Albert Kahn, Michigan provided an environment in which Modernism flourished.

Outstanding Modern designers and architects that studied and worked in Michigan include Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki. Michigan also contains outstanding Modern resources such as Eero Saarinen and Thomas Church’s masterwork the General Motors Technical Center in Warren and Lafayette Park in Detroit noted by Dwell magazine to be “the single largest collection of Mies van de Rohe buildings in the world”

Michigan Modern will document the state’s rich history of Modern design from 1940 to 1970. It will identify the Michigan-based architects and designers that championed the Modern Movement and capture their oral histories. In addition, it will document the Michigan work of renowned Modern architects, such as Ludwig Mies van de Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Ten Modern resources will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to qualify them for preservation tax credits. A survey of Michigan’s Modern architectural resources will be conducted and walking and driving tours will be created. The information gathered through the project will be made available on the Michigan Modern website.

Our goal through this project is to change how people view Michigan. The state’s contribution to design has been as great as its contribution to manufacturing, yet it has been largely overlooked. By focusing on Michigan’s dynamic and on-going design heritage, we hope this project will inspire a new audience to learn of the wealth of design history and opportunity that Michigan has to offer.

The Michigan History Foundation is seeking funds to develop the Michigan Modern project. Matching grants from Preserve America, the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation and the Finlandia Foundation have been secured to initiate the project.

The images on this page have been graciously provided by Cranbrook Archives. If you wish to obtain a copy, or usage rights, please contact Cranbrook Archives directly.

8 Responses to About The Project

  1. dsw says:

    I’m so happy to have stumbled into this site. I was born in Midland and grew up in the Tri-Cities in the 70s. Though I couldn’t identify the style by name as a child, I remember even then being enthralled by all the lovely Modern buildings in that part of Michigan, esp in Midland. Later I went to Cranbrook for high school and learned about the Saarinens and Eameses. Now, years later, living in Madison, Wisconsin, a town full of modern residential architecture, of course I recognize what this site is all about: highlighting the rich built 20th century built environment of Michigan. Excellent.

  2. Kris Van Leuven Mikami says:

    My father, Karl O. Van Leuven, Jr. was the partner in charge of the Detroit office for Victor Gruen Associated Architects and Engineers. We, my siblings and I, have many great stories about the development of the various shopping malls in the Detroit region between the late 40’s and the early 60’s.

    Found this site by accident. Will love to keep tabs on its progress.

    • Greg says:

      Great site!

      I was looking for information regarding Karl O. Van Leuven, Jr. of Victor Gruen Associates, and I noticed Kris’ comment. I am currently preparing a book on the history of Randhurst Shopping Center in Mount Prospect, IL. Karl was the partner in charge of this project, and I would definitely be interested in material regarding his involvement with Randhurst or any of his work in the Detroit area. Any help I could get through this site, or better yet if this note could be forwarded to Kris, it would be very much appreciated!


    • Darrell Fisher Grant Williams says:

      I met you and Kai when he and I were on the staff of the Seattle office of Okamoto/Liskamm Inc. in the late ’60s and early ’70s (I remember some of the associates: Kai, Mark Kawasaki, Bob Corwin, Ed Rose, Roger Parker, Ron Heglund, Vince Lyons).

      Although we lost Kai almost two years ago, I didn’t learn of his death until last evening. I came across the bare fact while searching for the Mikami street address and/or telephone number. Saddened that the man whose warm smile and effortlessly gracious style I remembered so wellI was gone, I visited the obituary site. There I learned that the talented architect and designer (I still have one of the knock-down desk/tables that he designed and built for the O/L office in Seattle.) who was truly one of the better people on earth had shuffled off this mortal coil in September of 2009. I had planned to call him, chat him up, and perhaps make arrangements for linking up during an upcoming trip to Seattle.

      I got together with you and Kai on two occasions after leaving Seattle in 1971. The first was a 1974 trip during which I combined a lecture with the defense of my doctoral dissertation. We were then living in Ithaca, New York, and I was a member of the City & Regional Planning faculty at Cornell (I recall your saying that your sister was a Cornell alumna.) You, Kai, Bob Corwin, and I got together at Bob’s home on Capitol Hill. It was an absolutely delightful evening.

      The second link-up was in the early 1990s. I was on a grant-funded research trip to Vancouver, B.C. As an alternative to spending all of my time in a city in which I knew no one, I made Seattle my four-day operational base and took the fast boat from Seattle to Vancouver Island. After a long day that included the four-hour round-trip boat ride to Vancouver, I spent a relaxing evening visiting with you and Kai at your home. I had been going places and doing things at a frenetic pace since 5:00 a.m., and I was, quite frankly, a bit concerned about being a dull guest who would spend part of the evening struggling to keep his eyes open. But neither mental nor physical fatigue was a problem. I was alert and fully engaged during every second of the three hours that I spent in your home. I think that I was re-energized by the conversation and the congeniality of my hosts.

      Kai was an unforgettable man who left us much too soon. And there is one thing of which I am certain: A significant part of the built environment is a better place because he became an architect and designer rather than a pharmacist.

      With belated but very sincere condolence,

      Grant Williams
      16th July 2011
      Note: If you remember me at all, it will probably be by Darrell, the first of my three given names (Grant, the name I prefer, is the third). I only answer to that name when in the presence of very old friends and acquaintances.

  3. Zig Olds says:

    Would love to see an architectural review of the mid-century Elementary Schools around Lansing…and though probably not architecturally significant…a cultural study of the Colonial Village Shopping Center would be welcomed too!

    • MI SHPO says:

      Hi Zig,

      That’s a great idea, and something that is part of our long-term plan. We’re currently in the identification phase of the project, which includes the schools. If you, or anyone else, has a list of schools in Lansing (or in any other Michigan city), we’d love to have a copy of it.

      The MichMod Team

      • Ron Springer says:

        I have a list for East Lansing, with original construction date and dates of remodeling.

  4. Catherine Westergaard says:

    I am an architectural historian in Tucson AZ and am doing on-line volunteer work with several different Modern sites around the country, helping with research of buildings and architects. I have access to a great collection of older home magazines, architectural journals, etc and have been known to find small gems that have gone unnoticed. If you’d like any help with your project, I would be glad to help!

    Regarding the Victor Gruen comments, I am a fan of his work! I lived in SoCal for 25 years and am somewhat familiar with his work there. We had a high end ladies clothing store here in Tucson for several years that Gruen’s office helped design. The woman who owned the shop recently passed away at 100 or 101 and was in business for over 60 years. I think she actually met with Gruen’s people in person to work on the design.

    Thanks for a great site, I hope I can help in some small way!

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