Michigan Modern is a project being undertaken by Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to document the state’s Modern design heritage.
After World War II, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, under the leadership of architect Eliel Saarinen, attracted some of the world’s best designers and artists. Coupled with the wealth and design tradition of Michigan’s booming automobile industry; the adoption of Modernist principles by the University of Michigan College of Architecture; the innovative design leadership of West Michigan’s furniture industry led by Herman Miller, Inc.; and the strong base of pre-Modern work in Michigan by architects such as Alden B. Dow and Albert Kahn, Michigan provided an environment in which Modernism flourished. Outstanding Modern designers and architects that studied and worked in Michigan include Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki.
Michigan Modern will document the state’s rich history of Modern design from 1940 to 1970. It will identify the Michigan-based architects and designers that championed the Modern Movement and capture their oral histories. In addition, it will document the Michigan work of renowned Modern architects, such as Ludwig Mies van de Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Ten Modern resources will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to qualify them for preservation tax credits. A survey of Michigan’s Modern architectural resources will be conducted and walking and driving tours will be created. The information gathered through the project will be made available on the Michigan Modern website.
The goal of this project is to change how people view Michigan. The state’s contribution to design has been as great as its contribution to manufacturing, yet it has been largely overlooked. By focusing on Michigan’s dynamic and ongoing design heritage, we hope this project will inspire a new audience to learn of the wealth of design history and opportunity that Michigan has to offer.
The Michigan History Foundation is seeking funds to develop the Michigan Modern project. Matching grants from Preserve America, the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation and the Finlandia Foundation have been secured to initiate the project.