dancing with architecture: Grand Rapids, Michigan (with a side trip to Muskegon)

Due to a family wedding, we found ourselves in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And thanks to Michigan Modern, we were able to enjoy a wee bit of architecture on the trip. Grand Rapids is a lovely town that sports 1.5 Frank Lloyd Wrights (the 0.5 being a house started by Wright but finished by Marion Mahony and Herman von Hoist), a Richard Neutra, a mini-Mies SOM, and numerous feral turkeys. We also saw that nearbyish Muskegon hosts a Marcel Breuer church. Oh, and the hitchin' went off without a hitch!

Wright's Meyer May House

Built in 1908-9, Wright designed and built the Meyer May House at the peak of his Prairie House phase. This building echoes the Robie House and shows, by my eyes, how Robie's limited lot dictated its long-linear design since the May House is similar but sits on a huge corner lot. Steelcase bought the house in 1985 and restored it and the grounds. Sadly, the house was not open for tours while we were in town.

wild turkey in the hood

The Amberg House

Just down the street from the Meyer May House sits the Amberg House, designed and built in 1909-10. It started off as a Wright commission, but, amidst the design, Wright suffered a mid-life crisis that saw him run off with a client's wife to Europe. He turned the project over to Marion Mahony and Herman von Hoist to finish.

It's a neat place, but the contrast with the Meyer May House is striking: not surprisingly, Wright was a far better architect than Mahony and von Hoist. On the other hand, the house is interesting in its lack of ornamentation and how cubist (and different) the planters are from Wright's. What ornamentation there is, is painted (original?).

frederik meijer gardens

The wedding was at these gardens, named after the owner of the local grocery chain. We didn't have time to tour the full gardens...

Neutra's List House

Designed and built in 1961, Richard Neutra's List House is perched along a lakeshore at the end of the street. Expansive second-floor windows engage the lake and landscape. The street sports several other mid-century modern homes.

Gunnar Birkerts' Freeman House 

You don't see too many Brutalist houses, but there's one in Grand Rapids that is rather unique. Designed by Gunnar Birkerts in 1964, the house features volcanic light wells to raise ceiling heights and invite light into the interiors. You can see interior photos here. Gunnar designed out of Detroit after working in Eero Saarinen's and Minoru Yamasaki's shops.

Marcel Breuer's Saint Francis de Sales Church 

Muskegon is about 45 minutes away from Grand Rapids, so when we set out to see Breuer's 1968 church there, I consoled myself that if the church was a bust, there'd be Lake Michigan to gawk at as consolation. But the church did not disappoint. Photos online don't do justice to the epic scale of this Brutalist masterpiece. As we rounded the corner and the church came into view, we both gasped at its size and beauty.

The church is a stunner despite the ill-advised attempt at a sympathetic addition to the front (which in reality mars the original building and saddles it with an unfortunate 1800s defensive posture).

check out the concrete stairs to the top!

the bride is at the lower right for scale

muskegon shoreline...

wandering about grand rapids...


Monument to fluoridation. Grand Rapids was the first city in the world to fluoridate its water.

furniture workers on strike!

Gerald Ford made out of junk!

The Gerald Ford presidential library is oddly architecturally (down to the font) similar to a Ford dealership...

a gay pride festival blocked us from the SOM...

raver grrl deco

A sculpture honoring Rosa Parks (for refusing to stand up and give up her seat).

wedding tacos!