Guide To Top Designs Coming

March 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The all-time top architectural designs in three West Michigan cities will be named shortly and then featured in an upcoming guide that will be freely distributed throughout the region.

A special committee formed by the Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects is putting its finishing touches on the two-year-long project that has been timed to coincide with the national AIA's 150th anniversary, and the goal is to debut the finished product at next month's AIAGV Honor Awards.

"It's a little bit of a race here to have it available for the Honor Awards. We will also have it as part of our permanent display that travels around. With that week being the 150th anniversary week, we would like to have it out at that time. So we're really pushing to have this out for that," said Robert Daverman, a senior architect at Progressive AE and a director with AIA Michigan.

Up to 55 buildings — plus a few other designed spaces — in the Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland areas will be highlighted in the AIA Grand Valley Guide to West Michigan Architecture. Committee members based their choices on the historical, design and economic significance of a work, along with the designer's status.

Ted Lott, co-owner of Lott3-Metz Architecture and chair of the selection committee, said Temple Emanuel at 1715 E. Fulton St. was one building that made the list. It was designed by the noted Erich Mendelsohn.

"That's probably one of the last buildings Erich Mendelsohn did before he died. He was kind of a pioneering modernist in his own way and was quite remarkable. There aren't too many Mendelsohn buildings in the world, let alone we have one sitting there on Fulton," he said.

Another that made the guide was St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Norton Shores, which was designed by Marcel Breuer.

"That is an amazing building. Once again, there aren't too many Breuers in this world, let alone one sitting there. That was done when he was at the height of his power. You don't see cast-in-place concrete like that, hardly at all. You certainly don't see it with the sweep and the engineering and fortitude it took to get that one done," said Lott.

But not everything in the guide will be an enclosed structure. Lott said he and committee members Dan Iacovoni of Cornerstone Architects and Philip Lundwall of Progressive AE were very impressed with Rosa Parks Circle and decided to include it. They thought that celebrated contemporary designer Maya Lin wove some architectural magic into the circle that anchors the west end of Monroe Center.

"That is kind of a modern public space, which isn't necessarily a piece of architecture per se, but it's certainly a very interesting interpretation of what modern public space should be. And it's very successful as it turned out, as well," said Lott.

A few others on the list are Vandenburg Center, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and the Van Andel Institute. So is the city's oldest building: the Calkins Law Office at State and Jefferson SE.

Lott said Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, who owns Past Perfect Inc. with Jennifer Metz, was crucial to the project. She provided the buildings' historical backgrounds, as well as the social implications that time has deeply engraved into the selected designs.

"There is nobody around that has a better understanding of architecture in this part of the state than she does. As much as designers would all like to think that they understand all designs, no matter when it was, we're really not historians," said Lott.

"So understanding some of the importance of some of these buildings really requires somebody who has a better understanding of history in the area. One of the things that I thought was critical was having Rebecca involved."

The West Michigan guide will join those that have already been published highlighting the top architectural designs in Flint, Ann Arbor, Detroit and Kalamazoo. And when the local tab is totaled, about $30,000 will have gone into the project.

Grants from the Michigan Architectural and Frey foundations were worth $1,500 and $5,000, respectively, while AIAGV member firms were expected to donate $4,000 to the cause. The remainder will come from in-kind contributions by the association's members.

The national AIA is featuring the top 150 U.S. designs as part of its anniversary celebration, and the Michigan AIA is doing a similar statewide project. Daverman said he expects a decent number of the buildings in the local guide will be featured in the state publication.

"There will be, I'm sure, many that will be part of that. They had a pretty esteemed group of historians, architects and others involved in that project," he said.

The AIAGV budget calls for 10,000 local guides to be printed and made available to the public at no charge.

"There is a predominance of historic structures, and the new ones that are on here are major projects. Some are from out-of-state and out-of-country architects," said Daverman.

"We're hoping as people are walking around and looking at these milestone structures that they come away with a heightened sense of awareness of the overall environment of their city and the quality that they are seeing in both old and new — and that they will look at the new with an even more critical eye."    

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