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Modern architecture marvels draw visitors to Michigan

The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland,
            Michigan is seen in this archive photo taken in the 1950s. The home was
            owned by one of the state's premier modern architects.(Source: Shanghai

The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland, Michigan is seen in this archive photo taken in the 1950s. The home was owned by one of the state's premier modern architects.[Source: Shanghai Daily]

Stop by the Minoru Yamasaki-designed McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, the United States, and you will find its halls open for a stroll through what is considered a masterpiece from the architect who created the World Trade Center.

Across the state in Muskegon, at St Francis De Sales church, a visit most days can get you a guided tour from the head of maintenance at the massive, poured concrete structure from architect Marcel Breuer.

Better known for Great Lakes beaches and summertime escapes and its wintertime destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, Michigan also is a repository of modern architecture. It offers the chance to do more than just gaze at the buildings or snap a few pictures; many notable buildings are open for tours or intimate visits.

The State Historic Preservation Office is behind an effort to highlight Michigan's modern architecture and design heritage.

It is raising US$250,000 to help record oral histories of architects from the time; create driving tours; and research and catalog important projects from around 1940 to 1970. The office is promoting the state's architecture through a Website,, with stories, photos and links to sites around the state.


One of the places that helped establish Michigan as a center for architecture and design was Cranbrook, just outside Detroit. Cranbrook includes K-12 private schools, an Institute of Science, the Cranbrook Academy of Art and an art museum. Cranbrook was designed in the 1920s and 1930s by the renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, who helped establish a creative culture that attracted designers Ray and Charles Eames and modern architects Ralph Rapson and Harry Weese. Saarinen's son Eero, himself a prominent architect, lived and trained at Cranbrook.

Reed Kroloff, a former editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine and director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, lives on campus in a home designed by Saarinen. He has grown accustomed to finding visitors, curious about Cranbrook and its role as a crucible for modern art, architecture and design, peering through the front door.

"Usually, if I'm not in my bathrobe, I'll give them a little bit of a tour," Kroloff says.

Gwendolyn Wright, an architecture professor at Columbia University, says Michigan is a showcase for a broad range of modern buildings, from homes and office towers to factories that display the evolution of industrial architecture. Cranbrook's campus, she notes, illustrates a unique connection between education and the arts.

"You have that sense just on the grounds and with the evolution of the buildings, from the move from craftsmanship that was hand-based ... up through the modern kinds of craftsmanship," says Wright, who has made driving tours of the state while visiting. "You see these constantly feeding back and forth."

The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland tries to offer visitors a personal experience, as if they had been invited over for dinner at what was the home of one of the state's premier modern architects.

The son of Midland-based Dow Chemical Co's founder, Dow studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most influential architect of the 20th century. A large concentration of Dow's work can be seen in homes, schools and churches throughout the city.

"When you come to the Dow house, you sit in the living room. You truly experience the building," says Dow Home and Studio director Craig McDonald.

When planning a visit to sample Michigan's architecture, set aside at least two days for a driving tour of the Detroit area and several more if the itinerary includes Midland, which is about two hours away, or Muskegon, along the coast of Lake Michigan. Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes can be found in cities throughout the state.