Mak­ing Modernism

Meet the fa­mous ar­chi­tects and un­likely key play­ers who came to­gether to foster Michi­gan's moder­nity in the 1950s.

Atomic Ranch - - Contents Winter 2017 - By Madi­son Nauta

Meet the fa­mous ar­chi­tects and un­likely key play­ers who came to­gether to foster Michi­gan's moder­nity.

THE 1950s WERE A TIME OF IN­NO­VA­TION ACROSS THE COUN­TRY, AND THE MID­WEST WAS NO EX­CEP­TION. Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy meant mass pro­duc­tion was be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar. Au­to­mo­bile and fac­tory work in Michi­gan was help­ing to shape North Amer­ica’s trends and life­styles.

Michi­gan Mod­ern: De­sign that Shaped Amer­ica by Amy Arnold and Brian Con­way, takes a close look at this iconic time pe­riod—zero­ing in on how one state man­aged to make its own mark on the era.

THE MIN­I­MAL­IST TREND

Mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture's ap­proach to home de­sign is well-suited to the re­gion. With its sun­ning land­scape, the Mid­west is a per­fect set­ting for walls of win­dows that take ad­van­tage of nat­u­ral light and bring the out­doors in. Amy and Brian note the con­trast be­tween the pre­dom­i­nantly neu­tral hues on the state's mid mod home ex­te­ri­ors, set against the bright green of their sur­round­ings. Michi­gan’s famed Kessler house, built by ar­chi­tect William Kessler for his fam­ily in 1959, stands as ev­i­dence of the state's mid mod pro­cliv­ity, em­body­ing the min­i­mal­ist trends of the mid­cen­tury.

THE ARTISTS

For many of the big play­ers in Mid­cen­tury Mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture, tak­ing func­tional de­sign ideas and mix­ing them with in­no­va­tion was what made a home unique. The cre­ative ge­nius be­hind the Goetsch-winck­ler house ex­em­pli­fies this.

Alma Goetsch and Kathrine Winck­ler, pro­fes­sors from the art de­part­ment of Michi­gan State Univer­sity, asked Frank Lloyd Wright to build a com­mu­nity of mod­ernist homes. While he wound up build­ing just theirs, he de­fied odds—and sug­ges­tions from the Fed­eral Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion—to cre­ate a mag­nif­i­cent and ar­chi­tec­turally as­ton­ish­ing home. Although the home con­tin­ues to stand as any­thing but sim­ple, the Goetsch-winck­ler house proves that ba­sic ma­te­ri­als can yield a unique mod­ernist mas­ter­piece.

Michi­gan's mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture had another cre­ative ad­vo­cate— Balt­hazar Korab. Trained in ar­chi­tec­ture in his na­tive Hun­gary, Korab im­mi­grated to Michi­gan and delved into pho­tog­ra­phy. Ac­cord­ing to Amy and Brian, this new art form helped Korab and the other de­sign­ers he worked with to make mas­ter­ful ar­chi­tec­tural pieces. His pho­tog­ra­phy be­came an in­dis­pens­able as­set. At the time, it helped to fur­ther the vi­sion of a de­sign as well as ac­cu­rately por­tray the unique fin­ished works, and, to­day, to pre­serve the same build­ings.

THE SIM­PLIC­ITY

Home to au­to­mo­tive and fur­ni­ture mak­ers, de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects, as well as the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michi­gan's ap­proach to Mid­cen­tury Mod­ern style was all-en­com­pass­ing. Sim­ple ma­te­ri­als took on new form—from crisp lines to sharp an­gles— cre­at­ing homes, build­ings, art­work and more that show­cased the mod­ern ad­vance­ments of not only the state, but the coun­try in the 1950s.

OP­PO­SITE: THE REYNOLDS MET­ALS RE­GIONAL SALES OF­FICE STANDS OUT AS AN EX­AM­PLE OF MID­CEN­TURY MOD­ERN AR­CHI­TEC­TURE. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY HELPED POPULARIZE DE­SIGNS LIKE THIS, AS WELL AS PRE­SERVE THEIR ORIG­I­NAL STATE. BE­LOW: THE LESTER K. KIRK CEN­TER, AMONG OTHER PUB­LIC

SIM­PLE AN­GLES AND AN OPEN FLOOR PLAN IS WHAT MADE THE KESSLER HOME A MOD­ERN MAS­TER­PIECE.

MICHI­GAN MOD­ERN: DE­SIGN THAT SHAPED AMER­ICA BY AMY ARNOLD AND BRIAN CON­WAY, PUB­LISHED BY GIBBS SMITH, © 2016; GIBBS-SMITH.COM.

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