Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

-MI-Grand Rapids Area

Grand Rapids Art Museum – GRAM – (2007)

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

101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids MI

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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)


Meyer May House (1908)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

450 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI

Aerial view and Directions

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…