Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

-MI-Ann Arbor

Palmer House – Interiors (1950)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15-16, 2012

See my post “Palmer House – Exterior” for information on the property.

The interior dramatically changes personality as the light changes in the space. From morning light, afternoon light, evening light and then artificial light the spaces are transformed as time goes by. When the trees, lawn and natural gardens are in sunlight, the interiors takes a back seat as the windows and walls seemingly disappear and the beautiful natural hillside is the star. In the evening after the sun sets, the glass appears as black panels focusing attention inward to the interior. The integrated indirect lighting transforms the oil-finished cypress clad ceiling of the living room into a warm canopy focusing on the fireplace. The polished Cherokee red concrete floors subtly reflect the light from above. Wright’s Origami Chairs ( which are quite comfortable ) are placed around the living room focused on the fireplace. Built into a wall by the kitchen is the dining table surrounded by dining chairs ( which are not comfortable).

All of the interior walls come together at 60 or 120 degree angles, as the floor plan is organized on an equilateral triangle grid. This grid is implemented in the furniture as well, even the beds have 60 and 120 degree corners.


Palmer House – Exterior (1950) – revisited

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15-16, 2012

Look at my first Palmer House post from two years ago for a description of the building.

The Palmer House has been purchased from the Palmer family estate, and is now available for overnight rentals (when the new owner is not in town). The purchase agreement comes with a very strict preservation agreement. Since it was purchased from the original owner’s estate, and the preservation agreement is in effect, this is an incredible opportunity to “live” in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house. The experience is pure Wright, without any unfortunate “updates” that mar many Wright properties that have gone through multiple ownership changes over the years.

Although recuperating from a back injury and not prepared with my tripod, I could not pass up an invitation from some amazing friends to spend the night. I have documented the house in 3 separate posts showing the exterior, the interior and the tea house on the property.


Palmer House – Tea House (1964)

John Howe, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15-16, 2012

After visiting Japan, the Palmer’s planned a teahouse on their property sited down the hill from the main house. John Howe, the on-site Taliesin representative during construction of the main house, was the architect (Wright had passed away 5 years earlier).

The tea house uses the same materials and equilateral triangle grid as the main house. It includes a recessed sitting area and table for tea drinking, a fireplace, bed, and small kitchen and bathroom.


“The Big House” Michigan Stadium (1927)

Bernard Green (UM Eng.  1891) of Osborn Engineering,  Chief Architect

1201 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15, 2012 (Michigan 63, Massachusetts 13) and September 17, 2011 (Michigan 31, Eastern Michigan 3)

I am including this post of The Big House not because it is a particularily exceptional building aesthetically, or because it is worth going out of your way to view it on an average day. I am posting this because Michigan Stadium is the largest college stadium in the nation ( 109,901 official capacity, largest crowd has been 114,804 in 2011), and has been part of a grand tradition in Ann Arbor since it was built 1927. The Stadium is usually locked up 358 days a year, and the field and seats are mostly below grade and not visible from outside the fence. But if you are one of the lucky 110,000 or so on each of the 7 days it is open for a home game annually, you will experience an event unlike any other in college football. Here the building is not the star, the football game is, and this building facilitates the event in a “big” way.

I am also posting the photos because I have been extremely lucky to have been invited to a few games in one of the suites which were added in a recent renovation. I have always wondered what the suites were like inside, so I thought I would snap a few photos to share them with those interested. Although the focus is clearly on the game, the suites are very comfortable, and you never know who you may run into, including a former coach…

After the game we went to Lena’s for dinner.

History of the Stadium


Burton Memorial Tower (1936)

Albert Kahn, Architect

The University of Michigan Campus

230 South Ingalls Street  Ann Arbor, MI

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken November 4 and 5, 2011

The Art Deco and Art Moderne inspired tower is a counterpoint to the massive Hill Auditorium next door. Growing up in Ann Arbor, the Burton Tower was always there with its simple clock face visible above the State Theater looking down Liberty Street. From some angles the copper roof is visible and forms a proper cap on the tower. From closer up the sloped roof is not visible and the limestone facade with its simple Art Deco detailing and vertical trim forms the sillouette against the sky. The proportions and detailing just seem perfect…with the exception of the windows on the office floors. For some reason the punched double-hung windows just seem to be out of place and scale to me – more appropriate to a colonial house than an Art Deco tower. That being said, this is still one of my favorite structures on the UofM Campus.

Burton Memorial Tower houses the Charles Baird Carillon, which is a “Grand Carillon” . Some quick internet research reveals that a grand carillon includes a bourdon bell which weighs at least six tons, and can sound a low ‘G’ – who knew? In the summer you can enjoy the carillon concerts while lounging on the lawn below.

Some historical photos showing the construction

Bentley Historical Library Information Page on Tower


Hill Auditorium (1913)

Albert Kahn, Architect

University of Michigan

825 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken November 4, 2011

The Hill Auditorium is a 3,500 seat venue designed by Albert Kahn  (originally it seated 4,100, but a 2004 renovation eliminated some seating). The most striking design elements are the grand light limestone columns and frame that contains the entry doors and windows above. Especially at night when you are entering the building for a performance, the light colored columns are prominent, and you do not notice the dark brickwork of the rest of the facade. This brickwork is actually quite elaborate and includes some beautiful decorative tiles (possibly Pewabic Tile, but I have not confirmed that). I have not attended any performances inside the auditorium since the renovation in 2004, but I understand that it was beautifully done…but where did all those seats go?


Domino’s Farms Prairie House (1984-98)

Gunnar Birkerts, Architect

24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive  Ann Arbor, MI 48106

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken November 4 and 5, 2011

To understand the Domino’s Farms building, and what is unique and interesting about it, you must click the link to the Aerial View and Map. It is long, nearly a kilometer long. It is long, twice as long as the Empire State Building is tall. It is long, and is covered by the world’s largest copper covered roof. It is long, and….well it is really long.

Designed by Gunnar Birkerts, it is a series of building blocks with hipped roofs organized on a series of 7 “sliding” tracks. The lobby entrances are created by gaps in the building blocks on the outermost tracks. The windows are continuous horizontal bands just under the deep overhangs. It is difficult to capture the building in photos (not to make excuses, but…) The best view of the building is from the expressway interchange on the west side of the complex.

Domino’s Farms was built as the headquarters for the Domino’s Pizza empire by it’s founder Thomas S. Monaghan, a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast. Monaghan actually amassed an impressive collection of Frank Lloyd Wright artifacts, memorabilia, art glass windows, furniture, Wright’s Cherokee red Lincoln Zepher, and even a couple Frank Lloyd Wright houses, before he decided that he should focus his energy and vast fortune on his religious faith.

Although well detailed and constructed, there isn’t a particularilly groundbreaking feature, memorable detail, or exciting approach to the building at ground level, but the building is impresive and memorable due to one fact – it is really, really long…


Cook Law Quadrangle (1923-33)

York and Sawyer, Architects

The University of Michigan Law School

South University Avenue at State Street  Ann Arbor, MI

Aerial and Map View

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Photos taken November 4 and 5, 2011

The Cook Law Quad is one of those special places where you just feel good being there. Walking through any one of the 3 arched portals from South University Avenue, you are tranformed as you enter a beautiful space enclosed by a collection of exquisitely detailed Gothic Revivial buildings. The great lawn is crisscrossed by walkways, and has grand old trees scattered about in just the right amount to provide shade in some places and sun in other places for students to relax, talk with friends and maybe even study. The scale of the dormortories to the north and east, the dining hall to the west, and the gothic tracery windows of the Library Reading Room to the south provides a varied and timeless backdrop in all directions. I recommend entering from South University Avenue through the portal closest to State Street, next to the Lawer’s Club. The archway tunnel turns into a cloister with an arched colonnade revealing the secluded lawn beyond. Architecture is a 3-dimensional artform, only truly appreciated by progressing through the spaces and experiencing the sequence of views carefully revealed by the architecture. The UofM Law School is a textbook example.

Link to History Web Page


Biomedical Science Research Building (2006)

Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects), Architect

The University of Michigan Main Campus

109 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor, MI

Aerial View and Map Link

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Photos taken November 5, 2011

Driving north on Washtenaw Avenue right at the curve where the road turns into East Huron Street, this building is directly in front of you, sited to command your attention. The curvy double glazed facade of the offices forms a backdrop for the windowless auditorium building which sits by itself in front. The laboratories are in more traditional rectangular blocks to the north and the west of the site. The laboratories are linked to the offices with an atrium. See the aerial view link above to get a plan view of the building’s organization. In the space between the double glazing of the office facade are rolling cages for window washing on tracks, a modern intrepertation of the old library ladders.

Many years ago, while working on a small project within one of James Stewart Polshek’s notable projects in NewYork City, I had a meeting in their New York office with the project architect. Mr. Polshek happened to come into the conference room and I had a conversation with him, albiet a brief one. After being introduced, Mr. Polshek turned to me and said “oh, you are the retail guy”, then turned and walked out of the room. Well perhaps “conversation” is an exaggeration, as I think the only thing I was able to say to him before he walked out was “nice to meet you”. But I can say I met him, and I guess he can say he has met me….as he enjoys his retirement in his apartment in Paris.

The Polshek Partnership, now called Ennead Architects, has designed some finely detailed and interesting projects for mostly institutional and corporate clients. They have been able to produce some interesting, unique and occasionally bold buildings for these clients that are usually controlled by large board of directors – which traditionally results in boring, least-common-denominator designs. Check out some of their notable projects including the Clinton Presidential Library, The New York Standard Hotel, and The Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History.

Architect’s Project Profile Information

University of Michigan Building Profile Webpage


Ross School of Business (2009)

Kohn Pederson Fox Associates,  Architects

The University of Michigan Campus

701 Tappan Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Aerial View and Map

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Last Visited April 24, 2011

Architect’s Project Profile Sheet


Traverwood Branch Library (2008)

inFORM Studio (formerly known as Van Tine|Guthrie Studio), Architects

Ann Arbor District Library Traverwood Branch

3333 Traverwood Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Aerial View and Map

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Last visited June 19, 2011

Watch the video “Up from the Ashes” by clicking this link


The Wave Field (1995)

Maya Lin, Designer

Ann Arbor, MI

on the North Campus of the University of Michigan

Aerial View and Map

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Visited July 16, 2011

Very difficult to find, and fairly unknown, this hidden sculpture is worth driving around the beautiful UofM north campus setting searching for  a parking space. It is not that all of the parking spaces are taken, there are no public parking spaces close to this courtyard. If you are quick, there is a 15 minute drop off area across Hayward street with a couple spaces.

The scuplture is well maintained (better than the maintenance of the building), and is an interesting experience so walk around and see the various patterns the rolling waves make.

Links to The Wave Field webpages:

The Wave Field on PBS


Palmer House (1950)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View

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I recently came across this website for the Palmer House which is now available for weekend or weeklong rental. Along with photos and information, there is this video with a tour.  It was set up by the new owner of the house who purchased it from the Palmer Family.  I decided to look at a few of the snapshots of the exterior I took while the house was for sale – and have posted them here.  I toured the house with potential buyers who had owned a Frank Lloyd House on the west side of the state, and were interested in something closer to the Detroit area. I have no interior photos respecting the “no photos” request once we were let inside.  Luckly, the interior has been photographed professionally and the photos show up in the many Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House books. Also, the realtor’s website is still up (as of today anyway) with a series of interior photos including rooms not usually published.

The Palmer House was the first Frank Lloyd Wright house I visited. My first visit was while I was in High School. The Palmer’s had the house open for the Ann Arbor Women’s Club House Tour. I skipped class and stood in line with a group of  ladies from the Ann Arbor Women’s Club. I think I was the youngest person in line by at least 30 years. The line slowly worked its way up the gravel drive, past the carport, and up the wide angled stairs to the front door. I remember next to the door there was a large shallow dish on the floor with a bird of paradise flower in front of a large floor to ceiling window. Simple, beautiful, and unusual. This glazing had a 30 degree angle with a glass to glass miter joint. I had never seen a window with a mitered joint like this. I was fascinated. Once inside, I experienced the magic of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture for the first time. The low roof at the entry compresses the space, and then after a carefully orchestrated path to the living room, the space opens up with the trangular ceiling lifted over the living room. The house  is layed out on an equlateral triagular grid. All of the walls come together at either 60 or 120 degree angles. This includes the masonry walls which use specially manufactured brick for the corners. I destinctly remember a woman telling her friend as they walked through the living room french doors to the natural garden path toward the tea house “It is an interesting house, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to live here”. I was thinking to myself that I could imagine what their homes were like, and I could not imagine anyone wanting to live in their homes!  As a young high school student taking drafting courses, this visit was one of those memorable milestones which inspired me to become an architect.