The best architecture in Michigan

February 16, 2009
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LANSING — What do Detroit’s restored Fox Theatre, the Lapeer and Alpena county courthouses, Meadowbrook in Rochester, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and the Capitol in Lansing have in common?

What connects the Herman Miller Design Yard in Holland to Traverse City State Hospital, the railroad station in Niles, the village of Bay View near Petoskey and the Superior Dome on the Northern Michigan University campus?

All are among the state’s top 150 architectural achievements, according to writer John Gallagher and photographer Balthazar Korab.

Their new book, “Great Architecture of Michigan” (Wayne State University Press and Michigan Architectural Foundation, $60) shows and tells the stories of such buildings. It groups their chosen buildings into themes related to their use, such as those “we gather in,” those “we learn in,” those “we worship in” and those “we work in.”

Some of their selections are obvious: Detroit’s Art Deco-style Guardian Building, for example, or the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, or Frank Lloyd Wright works, the Goetsch-Winckler House in Okemos and Parkwyn Village in Kalamazoo.

Others, however, provide pleasant surprises.

Among them is the 19th-century D.H. Day Farm with its weathered white dairy barn and silos on the Leelanau Peninsula, about which Gallagher writes, “Some buildings blend so naturally with their surroundings that they seem to be of the earth rather than on it.”

So is Hannah House, a 40-room, Queen Anne-style mansion that a lumber baron and his wife built in Traverse City. It’s only natural that they’d use a different kind of wood to panel each room, although they probably never predicted its current use as a funeral home.

And so are a group of shingle-sided houses in Calumet, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, that copper miners called home. They were built between 1870 and 1910, many on foundations made of debris from local mines.

No matter how stunning their design and how solid their construction, such buildings may prove ephemeral, Gallagher cautions.

“A number of our 150 buildings faced the wrecking ball, and not a few survived only because dedicated individuals rallied like-minded citizens at a crucial time,” he writes.

“Their crime,” he says of those whose survival was precarious, “was often nothing more than being out of style as tastes changed, or standing in the way of a sewer line or gas station. Yet all those once-threatened buildings now serve as anchors of their communities.”

West Michigan’s ‘architectural achievements’

In Grand Rapids:
Basilica of St. Adalbert
Grand Rapids Public Library (Ryerson Library)
Meyer May House
Van Andel Arena

In Ottawa County:
Herman Miller Design Yard (Holland)
DePree House (Zeeland)

In Muskegon County:
Hackley House
Hackley Public Library
St. Francis de Sales Church
Union Depot

Source: “Great Architecture of Michigan,” Wayne State University Press and Michigan Architectural Foundation

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