Wednesday, August 21, 2013

10 Ways to Help Preserve Places from the Recent Past

Here's a great article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on how to encourage the preservation of the recent past, particularly Modern buildings:

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Help Preserve Places from the Recent Past

blog_photo_Georgia Bank 

The bank photo above reminds me a lot of the Smithsonian National Zoo's Great Flight Cage that I saw while on vacation this summer with my family in D.C.  I know this blog is supposed to be about Grosse Pointe modernism, but I can't help but highlight this seemingly hidden and not so well known modern gem in D.C.  The mature landscape in and around the cage reminds me a lot of Lafayette Park's Mies van der Rohe aluminum and glass apartments and townhomes situated amongst a now mature and majestic tree canopy.

The entrance to the Great Flight Cage.  Photo by Brian Vosburg
The interior of the Great Flight Cage.  Photo by: Brian Vosburg

Interior building inside the Great Flight Cage which sits directly opposite and in symetry with the entrance.  Photo by Brian Vosburg
The Great Flight Cage from the ground level.  Note the detail on the bridge which leads from the bird house to the Great Flight Cage.  Photo by: Brian Vosburg

Exterior view of the Great Flight Cage with lush tree cover.  Photo by: Brian Vosburg

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Michigan Modern Exhibit at Cranbrook

As readers of this blog know, Cranbrook was and still is a world center of Modern architecture and design.  Without Cranbrook, Modern design may have never taken hold in the United States and the world.  Grosse Pointe, the Detroit area and Michigan can directly and indirectly trace nearly all their modern architecture to the Cranbrook Academy.  Grand Rapid's furniture industry and the Herman Miller company would have been a footnote of a long ago obscure and dead industry in the state without the direct impact of Cranbrook.  The famous post-war American car with chrome, tail fins and bubble windows may have never happened without the influence of Cranbrook.  The "Mad Men"; jet-set architecture of the St. Louis Arch, Dulles Airport, TWA terminal at JFK Airport; and countless pieces of modern furniture (Tulip chair, Eames chair, Wassily chair, Marshmallow chair, etc.) would never have become (possibly may have never existed) the iconic and as well as vernacular furniture we have today.  Grosse Pointe's beloved Central Branch Library and several homes would not exist without Cranbrook.


To celebrate and commemorate the amazing world changing history of Cranbrook, an exhibit has recently opened at the Cranbrook Museum of Art titled: Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America.  It runs through October 13 and will be well worth a visit for any fan or person interested in Modern design and architecture, particularly in Michigan.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mad Men and Historic Preservation

Sorry for the lull in posting.  It has been a busy spring/early summer.  I do have research underway on Modern buildings in the Pointes that will be coming this summer.  In the meantime, enjoy this great article from the PreservationNation blog:

Here's a great interview in Preservation magazine, the official magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.  Weiner discusses the importance and value, particularly now, of preserving Modern architecture:

Why Don Draper is a Preservationist

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grosse Pointe Public Library - Central Branch

A 1954 photo of the library at night with Breuer designed sign

The Grosse Pointe Public Library - Central Branch is one of the Pointes' most well know modernist landmarks.  In addition to great architecture, the library also is home to some impressive works of art by prominent modern artists.

Facade of library on Kercheval at Fischer.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

The story of how this building came to be began in the late 1940s.  The Grosse Pointe Board of Education designated a portion of the high school land fronting Kercheval for Grosse Pointe's first building built as a library.  Up until this point the GPPL had existed in various adapted spaces in schools, city halls and commercial buildings around town.  Dexter Ferry Jr. and Murray W. Sales, as board members of the Grosse Pointe Public Library (GPPL), were the two lead donors for the new library building.  Dexter Ferry Jr. lead the building committee for the library.

Main lobby with Breuer designed tables, card catalog and shelves.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

In the post-war time of the library project Modern architecture, particularly European styles, was just making its leap in North America from smaller residential projects to large apartment, commercial and government projects.  Mies van der Rohe's Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago had been finished that year and the Niemeyer/Le Corbusier designed UN Headquarters in New York was nearing construction.  Few examples of modern architecture, particularly public buildings, existed in the world other than on paper as proposals or as experimental structures that were part of world fairs.
Breuer designed charging desk and card catalog.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

Dexter Ferry Jr.'s son, W. Hawkins Ferry, had attended Harvard Design School a little over a decade earlier and worked hard to convince the library board to select Marcel Breuer, his former professor, to design the new building in 1951.  This decision was not without much discussion, especially with the Pointes' preference for more traditional architectural styles, a sentiment which strongly remains today.
Children's Reading Room with Breuer designed tables.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

Mr. Breuer was a key leader in the Bauhaus movement which started in Germany in the 1920s.  In a talk given by Mr. W.H. Ferry at the library, he quoted Breuer's mentor and colleague, Walter Gropius, who defined Bauhaus in this way: "The guiding principal of the Bauhaus was the idea of creating a new unity through the welding together of many arts and movements, a unity having its basis in man himself and significant only as a living organism". While Breuer eventually became a noted modern architect, at that time he was a noted modern furniture designer who's ground breaking use of tubular steel and laminate woods became some of the world's most iconic furniture designs.
Friends of the Library Room with Breuer designed table and shelves.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

Now this was not Marcel Breuer's first architectural commission with the Ferry family. In fact, this was just the beginning of a long relationship between Mr. Breuer and the Ferry family.  Breuer had just finished a new dorm at Vassar College where Dexter Ferry Jr.'s daughter Edith Ferry-Hooper attended college.  The dorm was named in honor of Dexter Ferry Jr. who donated the funds for the facility.  Breuer designed an addition to Mrs. Ferry-Hooper's home in Baltimore, MD that was finished a few years before the library, and Breuer also later designed a new home in the Baltimore area for Mrs. Ferry-Hooper.  Additionally Mrs. Ferry-Hooper selected Breuer to design new furniture for a new building at Bryn Mawr School where Mrs. Ferry-Hooper was a board member.  The relationship between Mr. Breuer and the Ferry family was so cordial that Mr. Breuer wrote to Hawkins and Edith by first name and they addressed Mr. Breuer as Lajko, a nickname reserved for use by his close friends and colleagues.  Mr. Breuer also often stayed at the Ferry residence in Grosse Pointe when in town for business related to the library project.
Conference Room with Breuer designed Speaker's Stand (lectern/podium).  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

The Detroit Public Library consulted with Mr. Breuer on the programing and operations of the new library in a modern designed building.  Out of this consultation Mr. Breuer designed many custom pieces of furniture for the library which included the charging desk and various shelving, a record listening desk (does anyone know what happened to it?), card catalog file, and several tables.

Photo courtesy: MI SHPO

The library's modernist design didn't stop with just the building and its furniture.  W. Hawkins Ferry, showing his knowledge of the modern art world and its artist who were just beginning to make their mark but weren't yet the noted trailblazing designers they were to become, collaborated with Breuer on several modern art installations for the library. At the dedication ceremony W. Hawkins Ferry described two works of art that he had (at the time) anonymously donated at a cost of $5,150, to the library: An Alexander Calder mobile and a tapestry based on Wassily Kandinsky's work.

Photo by: Andrew Moore

One of the giants of modern art, Alexander Calder is noted for his ground-based steel sculptures and the invention of the suspended mobile.  Calder's mobile represents a period where Calder had arrived at his creative peak and identity and the wider art world had just started accepting Calder's groundbreaking work.  Calder was commissioned by W.H. Ferry through a relationship Breuer had with CalderNot long after, Calder's works became more widely known by the general public.

Photo by: John Martin Photography

The second work of art donated by W.H. Ferry was the tapestry based on works by Wassily Kandinsky.  As part of the original design process for the library, Mr. Breuer designed a handwoven tapestry made in France that was created from designs and paitings by noted Bauhaus artist and professor Wassily Kandinsky, a friend that Mr. Breuer named his most noted chair design after.  One factual clarification to note: based on the personal notes of W.H. Ferry, the tapestry was not designed or created by Mr. Kandinsky (chiefly because he died in 1944) but was created as a tapestry based on Mr. Kandinsky's "Sur Fon Noir" or "On Black Background" series of paintings.  This distinction differs from the descriptions of the tapestry given by the GPPL and Ms. Elizabeth Vogel's excellent article and outstanding feature on the tapestry and Mr. Kandinsky in this Grosse Pointe Patch article.

Kandinsky inspired tapestry and the original Breuer designed shelves today.  Photo by: John F. Martin Photography

After the library opened, W. Hawkins Ferry had two more works of art that he donated to the library:
A very close friend of Mr. Calder, Herbert Matter was originally commissioned to create a mural for the opening of the library.  However Mr. Breuer encountered many delays in getting Mr. Matter to complete the mural, with delays getting to the point that Mr. W.H. Hawkins considered finding a new artist for a work in the library.  Finally finished in 1955, the work titled "History of Writing" was installed at the library.  It features photo examples of writing from around the world that cover several thousand years of history.  Mr. Matter was an influential Modern graphic designer and photographer who significant body of work includes design work with Conde Nast, Saks Fifth Avenue, Knoll Associates, the Guggenheim Museum, Cranbrook alums Ray & Charles Eames, Yale University, and the New Haven Railroad logo.
Matter mural with Breuer designed table.  Photo courtesy: Grosse Pointe Public Library

As part of the original artwork for the library, a bronze sculpture titled "Icarus" by David Hare was also donated.  However W.H. Ferry and his sister Elissa were not happy with the sculpture or it's location within the library.  After much discussion it was removed from the library and stored in the basement of W.H. Ferry's home until a permanent home was found for it.  The new Northland Shopping Center was a potential consideration for the piece, as was the Detroit Instutute of the Arts.  It's not clear what happened to the sculpture and it is not on public display at the library.

The Friends of the Library Room today with original Breuer desigined shelving.  Photo by: Andrew Moore

Despite the passing of years, W. Hawkins Ferry wasn't finished with his donations to his beloved modern library.  He commissioned and donated the Lymon Kipp metal sculpture in 1981 titled "Salute to Knowledge" which sits prominently outside on the library's Kercheval frontage.  The Kipp sculpture appears to replace a sculpture that was attached to the facade of the library to the right of the sign (see second photo from top and this drawing).  Mr. Kipp was an influential Modern sculptor who studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where Mr. Ferry had attended high school much earlier.  The towering blue columns and red panels stand out in contrast to the brick facade of the library and traditional architecture of The Hill downtown district.  Mr. Kipp's work can also be found at the Smithsonian, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, MIT, Calvin College, Grand Rapids Art Museum, University of Michigan and many other prominent places. 

Salute to Knowledge by Kipp.  Photo by: pmoore66

In 2007, after spending two years studying how to create a much needed expansion of the library to accommodate modern technology and more users of the library, the Grosse Pointe Public Library board publicly announced that they were contemplating demolishing the Breuer designed library for a larger, more "modern" facility.

Detail of the front facade today.  Photo by: Andrew Moore

Alerted to the possibility of demolition by Detroit Free Press architecture writer John Gallagher (who wrote the forward to one of W.H. Ferry's books) social media spread the message and the Modern Architecture Protection Agency (mapa) was created.  This national and international network garnered the support of the World Monuments Fund, and with funding from Knoll (who were one of Breuer's earliest furniture manufactures), which placed the library on its 2008 list of "100 Most Endangered Sites".

Main Library Room today. Photo courtesy: Friends of the Grosse Pointe Public Library

Out of this international concern and assistance the library board eventually canceled its plan for demolition and adopted a restoration and sympathetic expansion plan which was lead by a significant local gift for the restoration and the creation of a foundation to preserve the the library.  As a result of the demolition threat and successful preservation outcome, the library has been featured in a World Monuments Fund "Main Street Modernism" special section as well as a case study of 5 threatened modernist buildings as an example of a successful outcome for a threatened modernism building.  The library is also now recognized as a significant building in the Pointes by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society and honored with one of its Bronze Historic Plaques.

Marcel Breuer
Photo of Marcel Breuer in his Wassily chair by: Constance Breuer, wife of Marcel Breuer

If you would like to do more research on the Grosse Pointe Public Library - Central Branch or the Ferry family's relationship with Marcel Breuer, I highly recomend the Marcel Breuer Archives at Syracuse University which are available online.  The archive holds a treasure trove of historic information on the library with over 1,000 articles specifically about the library which include design documents, construction documents,  published articles, photographs, correspondence and more.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

W. Hawkins Ferry House

In keeping with the William Kessler theme, the other know Kessler designed home in the Grosse Pointes is the W. Hawkins Ferry house on Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe Shores.  W. Hawkins Ferry was a major force in modernist art and architecture in metro Detroit and the nation.

Photo by: Joseph Messana

Mr. W.H. Ferry was the grandson of Dexter Ferry Sr., the founder of what has today become the Ferry-Morse Seed Company.  Dexter Ferry Sr. was one of the founding board members of today's Detroit Institute of Arts and was a significant benefator to the construction of the original DIA building as well as a benefactor for the purchase of significant art collections at the museum.

Photo by: Joseph Messana
W.H. Ferry likely began his education in modern art and architecture while attending the newly created Cranbrook School for Boys where Mr. Booth and Mr. Eliel Saarinen were creating the ground breaking work that is the Modernist masterpiece of the Cranbrook Educational Community, which brought Modernism to the U.S. and the world.  W.H. Ferry continued his modernist education at the Harvard Design School, the same school William Kessler later studied at, where he studied under modernist pioneers Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

Photo by: Joseph Messana

W.H. Ferry's parents were the benefactors for the Grosse Pointe Public Library's (GPPL) first building built specifically for the library. Up until that point, the GPPL had been using adapted space in schools, city halls and commercial buildings. After his family donated land and money for the new library, W.H. Ferry was able to convince his father, Dexter Ferry Jr., in 1951 to select his former professor Marcell Breuer as the architect of the new Grosse Pointe Public Library building on Kercheval.

Photo by: Joseph Messana

W.H. Ferry, like his father and grandfather before him, became a trustee of the Detroit Institute of Arts Founders Society in 1960.  W.H. Ferry played a lead role in the expasion and aquisition of the museum's collection of modern art.  He was also a signficant and prominent collector of modern art himself and his personal collection was featured in DIA exhibitions in 1966 and 1987.

Photo by: Joseph Messana
In addition to being educated in and influencing modern architecture, W.H. Ferry also wrote about architecture.  In 1968 he wrote The Buildings of Detroit: A History, still one of the most referenced architecture books on Detroit, and in 1970 he wrote The Legacy of Albert Kahn, being the first person to write a book solely about Albert Kahn's architectural legacy.

Photo by: Joseph Messana
W.H. Ferry was a person with access to the nation's and world's top architects and designers.  When it came to his own home, he selected Grosse Pointe's own Willian Kessler to design a home that reflected his love of modernism.  The home is situated on a beautiful location overlooking Lake St. Clair. The home was featured in Home Beautiful magazine, which has numerous outstanding photographs of the home, shortly after in was completed in 1969.  The home features well designed large glass curtain walls, wood paneling, staircase, lighting and is surrounded by now well established landscaping.  As one would expect with W.H. Ferry, not only is the home a work of art, the home itself is designed to showcase his world class collection of modern furniture and art work.

Photo by: Joseph Messana
In addition to his DIA work, W.H. Ferry was involved in other notable area art projects, including the People Mover Art in the Stations project and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Photo by: Joseph Messana
 Mr. W. Hawkins Ferry passed on January 28, 1988 at his home.  His legacy lives on through the works he donated during his life and at his passing to the DIA and the Smithsonian, through funds he set up at the DIA and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the books he wrote, as well as the fine buildings he played key roles in during his life.
(28450) Portraits, Writers, W, Hawkins Ferry, Detroit, 1960s
Portrait of W. Hawkins Ferry by: Tony Spina - Courtesy: Wayne State University

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

William Kessler House

Balthazar Korab, Architect of Photography
photo by: Balthazar Korab
The first home featured on this blog is the home of Grosse Pointe Park's own noted modernist architect, William Kessler.  After graduating with a B.A. in Architecture from the Institute of Design, Chicago, Mr. Kessler studied under two noted masters of modern architecture: Walter Gropius, at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Minoru Yamasaki, as Senior Designer of the Leinweber, Yamasaki and Hellmuth, Architects firm in the Detroit area.  Mr. Kessler founded several firms after his time at Yamasaki: Meathe, Kessler and Associates; William Kessler and Associates; and Kessler, Francis, Cardoza Architects.

Photo by: Semi-Modern

Mr. Kessler's own home on Cadieux in Grosse Pointe Park reflects an understated aesthetic from the street that blends in well with the surrounding neighborhood despite the more traditional nature of the surrounding homes.  Once inside the home, the home is anything but traditional.

Photo by: Semi-Modern

The blog Semi-Modern has a profile of the home that is far better than any I could possibly provide.  They were able to tour the home shortly after it had been put on the market for the first time ever.  Their profile shows the home with its original modern furnishings:

Semi-Modern feature on William Kessler House

Photo by: Semi-Modern

Other notable works in metro Detroit by Mr. Kessler are the revolutionary design of Detroit Receiving Hospital, Mt. Clemens Federal Savings & Loan Building, The Beach Grill in St. Clair Shores, the Detroit Science Center, Kresge-Ford Building at the College for Creative Studies, the Coleman A. Young Community Center (with partners James & Carolyn Cardoza) , Grand Valley State University (as part of Yamasaki & Associates) as well as historic restoration projects that include the major renovation of the Fox Theater (with partner Edward Francis), an interior renovation of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the renovation and addition to the Detroit Cornice & Slate Building.  The list of his influential and ground breaking works could go on and on.  Mr. Kessler was a Fellow of the American Instutute of Architects.

Photo by: Semi-Modern

In addition to Mr. Kessler's rich architectural legacy, he also contributed to the social legacy of the area through his service on the Grosse Pointe Human Relations Council, which brought Whitney Young and Martin Luther King Jr. to speak in Grosse Pointe during the highly charged 1960s in metro Detroit.  Mr. Kessler also served his community on the Grosse Pointe Park Planning Commission and City Council and played an influential role on the Michigan Special Commission of Art in State Buildings to bring art to state buildings in Lansing.

Photo by: Semi-Modern

Mr. Kessler passed at his home on November 16, 2002.