Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

-MI I-96 Roadtrip

Grand Rapids Art Museum – GRAM – (2007)

Kulapat Yantrasast, Yo Hakomori, Aaron Loewenson, wHY Architecture; Architects

101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids MI

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Touted as the world’s first LEED Gold certified art museum, this brutalist bare concrete structure actually has very sophisticated details and beautiful spaces. The “green features” are integrated throughout the building. Some are obvious, and some are cleverly integrated and were only discovered by reading reports of all of the earth friendly features of the building.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum website

Need a place to stay while visiting? The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Downtown Courtyard are within a short walk.

Hungry? These are my favorite restaurants within a short walk that I discovered while visiting:

Osteria Rossa, Rockwell Republic and San Chez (which also has breakfast)

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Broad Art Museum (2012)

Zaha Hadid, Architect

Michigan State University Campus

East Lansing, MI

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Photographs taken March 28 and April 20, 2013

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum is an interesting shiny jagged object designed by a bold strong personality. Hadid’s object seemed small during construction, and as the pleated stainless steel went up, it seemed too busy. I thought the starchitect created an attention grabbing sculpture, and it’s angular shape would create awkward spaces that the collection would be forced into.

Once I was able to experience the interior I was pleasantly surprised. It is a series of distinct galleries on three floors (including the basement) angled around a sculptural grand stairway. Some of the galleries are windowless and quite intimate, while others are grand with bold pleated windows and balconies overlooking them. The artwork feels as if it really belongs in the spaces, with some being installations actually created on the walls. There are some platforms which are extensions of the black metal archway casings and provide an elevated base for sculptural pieces. There is even a new media gallery with video installations in the lower level.

Surprisingly there is even room for a cafe, creating an area for receptions and gatherings with overflow space out into a courtyard. What seemed small from the outside, turned out to be much larger than expected.  It is much more than a sculptural object, it is truly a museum which displays the artwork beautifully – but I do still think the shiny jagged stainless steel siding is a little too busy…


Meyer May House (1908)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

450 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI

Aerial view and Directions

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Photos taken July 7, 2012

I have visited the Meyer May House several times over many years. I remember seeing presentations by Steelcase during the extensive restoration.  As  Wright’s houses are aging, changing hands as original owners pass, and with the cost of maintaining these unique structures,  the current condition of many of them are unfortunate and in many cases sad. The Meyer May House restoration’s attention to minute detail, with what seemed to be no expense spared, has resulted in an amazing step back in time to when the house was newly constructed and lived in by the May family.

Less streamlined than the earlier 1906 Robie House in Chicago, this Prairie House still has plenty of details, drama, and amazing art glass in the unique living room window arrangement to make it well worth a visit. If you take the tour, check out the living room fireplace brickwork with the horizontal mortar joints accented with special reflective tiles.

The house is in the Heritage Hill Historic District in Grand Rapids which is still mostly residential. This is an opportunity to see the house in context with the surroundings when it was built. Look at the neighboring houses along the street and you can appreciate how “new” and different Wright’s designs were at the time.

The most impressive bit of information on the house: the tours are free of charge

Click here for the Meyer May House website


Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (1982)

Marvin DeWinter Associates; Jordan Sheperd,  Architect

303 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids MI

Aerial View and Directions

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While driving through Grand Rapids, I decided to finally stop at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. I did not have time to actually tour the interior of the building and go through the displays related to President Ford’s administration – so it is unfair to really judge this museum building until I do so. Having said that, here are my comments on the exterior…

The exterior of the building facing the river reminds me of any number of suburban spec office buildings from the early 80’s which line the main roads near any suburban expressway interchange. There is a reflective glass curtainwall within an exposed aggregate concrete arch of sorts. It just did not feel like a museum to me, more like they temporarily leased space in an office building waiting for the museum to be built. The huge shiny blue dimensional letters forming the sign on the concrete fascia of the building, seem more appropriate for a check cashing store than a presidential museum, but I assume it is meant to be a nod to University of Michigan “blue”, Ford’s alma mater. The smaller lettering near the entrance is a dark bronze, to me it seems much more fitting.

Just north of the museum along a tree-lined sidewalk is a sloping curved wall forming a pristine plaza – the President and his wife’s final resting place. It is a quiet, contemplative space, very fitting in my mind. What did seem out-of-place is the black wrought iron fence with gold painted decorative ornate finials surrounding the graves,  totally incongruous to the contemporary angular reflective glass building and the simple curved concrete wall of the memorial. It was something I would expect surrounding a Georgian style McMansion, not a contemporary building.

And whats with the string of “Christmas” lights wrapped around the parapet just below the coping ? This is July…


St. Francis de Sales Muskegon – Interior (1964)

Marcel Breuer – Architect

2929 McKracken Street, Norton Shores, MI

Aerial view and Directions

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Visited July 6, 2012

Click here for the blog post of the exterior of this church


St. Francis de Sales Muskegon – Exterior (1964)

Marcel Breuer – Architect

2929 McKracken Street, Norton Shores, MI

Aerial view and Directions

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Visited July 6, 2012

This Marcel Breuer brutalist concrete edifice is a surprise find on a Muskegon Street. I was not actually surprised, as I traveled to Muskegon just to see this building. What is surprising is that this famous Jewish architect from Germany’s Bauhaus (who also designed the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York) designed this Catholic Church in Muskegon – and this building is relatively unknown.

I have posted some exterior photographs today, and will update this post with additional information and photos in a day or two. I also made arrangements to photograph the interior, and will post those photos separately.

Check back soon for more.

Click here for photos of the Interior


Hackley and Hume Historic Site (1889)

The Charles A. Hackley House and Thomas Hume House

David S. Hopkins Designer

484 West Webster Avenue, Muskegon, MI 49440

Aerial View and Directions

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Photographs taken July 6, 2012

I had first visited the Hackley & Hume houses many years ago, prior to the exterior restoration. They have come a long way. The polychrome paint scheme in dark earthy tones stops traffic…well maybe an exaggeration, but certainly will get the attention of architects and historians.

The very creative decorative trim elements of all different shapes are sizes are fascinating. They cover every surface available, with the paint scheme accentuating them.

Although my personal taste in buildings tends to have fewer goo gahs, festoons and zigzags, this complex of buildings is well worth a stop. Spend some time looking at each surface and you will start to understand how complex the decorative treatment is in these grand Queen Anne houses.

The interiors are also open for tours, but this trip I did not take the tour. Just looking at all of the elaborate stained glass windows, the experience promises be incredible.

Interesting thing to notice is the fireplace in the Hackley House. It is an engineering feat as there is a stained glass window above the firebox and mantle. Typically ( especially back then) the fireplace damper and flue are directly above the firebox and go straight up through the chimney. In order to have the window above the fireplace, the flue had to be diverted around the window. Quite novel back then ( and even now for a masonry fireplace).

The Hackley and Hume website