Midcentury modern tour is back by popular demand

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published October 2, 2013

 This home, owned by Craig and Sarah Maki, is another example of midcentury modern architecture in Southfield, a post-World War II design.

This home, owned by Craig and Sarah Maki, is another example of midcentury modern architecture in Southfield, a post-World War II design.

SOUTHFIELD — It was a house that had all of the elements Craig Maki and his wife of nine years, Sarah, were looking for in their first home.

With a wish list of an open floor plan, clean lines, natural materials and lots of lighting, their midcentury modern home in the Cranbrook Village neighborhood of Southfield was exactly what they came to find in 2002.

“My wife has a good eye for design, and we looked in different metro Detroit communities for a home, but Southfield had the most interesting stock of homes we were interested in,” said Maki, who works in communications. “Our house was built in the ’60s, and we were particularly looking for this style of house.”

Southfield historian and City Council President Ken Siver explained that during the ’60s, Southfield was Michigan’s fastest growing city. Because of that, the city has an extensive collection of midcentury modern homes, commercial and office buildings, and religious institutions. 

Showing off unique designs by several 20th century architects, a second midcentury modern architecture bus tour will be held in Southfield this weekend.

The Southfield Historical Society, the Southfield Planning Department and DoCoMoMo are hosting the special return event, set for 2-4:30 p.m. Oct. 6.

“The purpose of this tour is to create awareness and appreciation for some of Southfield’s distinctive buildings and homes and to promote Southfield as a place to live and do business,” Siver said in the press release, adding that guides will comment on the distinctive features of midcentury modern architecture, as well as architects of the day. 

The bus tour runs in concurrence with DoCoMoMo national programming and will take a look at more than 25 structures in Southfield.

Maki said that the tour gives others a look at what drew his grandparents to build a house in Southfield and what brought him and his wife to the city to settle on a post-World War II design that he says is easy to maintain, yet still full of character.

“I think what Southfield is doing, in terms of documenting these structures, is a good thing. It acknowledges the historic relevance and promotes understanding among the public when they host these tours,” he said. “One of the things I admire about that era is that the architects and designers took a lot of chances. They tried new things with new materials to see what would work. I think the surviving structures from that era have a lot to teach today’s designers and architects.”

One of the most prominent features of the tour will be the work of Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who designed Southfield’s modernist structure the Reynolds Building on the corner of Northland Driver and Northwestern Highway.

Yamasaki went on to achieve international fame for the New York World Trade Center towers.

Yamasaki designed Southfield’s three-story building with an open design and central atrium for the Reynolds Aluminum Co. in 1959. It was hailed as an “ode to aluminum,” according to Siver, and features a skylight made of a series of pyramids atop the atrium, while the glass walls of the upper floors are sheathed in light-deflecting aluminum grills. 

Years later, the Reynolds Building was converted to a health club, and it’s now for sale by LA Fitness, he added. Standing out from the first midcentury modern tour in Southfield, the building will be open for participants to walk through.

Marc Florian, a 14-year resident of Southfield who is originally from Germany, also found his dream home in the city, and it’s a highlight of the midcentury modern tour.

“As for picking Southfield as a place to live, the main draw for me was both the ample supply of affordable midcentury modern homes and the convenient location within the metro area,” he explained. “I live by myself and don’t want too much house, but I do want some privacy and green, especially for summer outdoor entertaining. … As an industrial designer, I always had a strong appreciation for the unique visual character and easy-to-live-with qualities of these types of homes.”

The visual qualities of his 1950s home are what really stand out for him, he added, including the big-picture windows, the sweep of the roof pitch into the big carport and the flagstone accent walls typical of that era.

“It’s also just plain fun to live in a house like this,” Florian added.

Also open on the tour, which includes 26 buildings and three neighborhoods, are the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and Northland Theater. Shaarey Zedek was designed by famed New York architect Percival Goodman with Albert Kahn & Associates.  The synagogue, dedicated in 1962, is considered a masterpiece of modern design, Siver said.  The Northland Theater, also built in 1966, is a classic of its era and one of the last theaters in Michigan to be built to seat 1,500 people in a single auditorium, he added.

The two-and-a-half-hour bus tour will also include the Northland area, a loop through the Northland Gardens, Washington Heights and Cranbrook neighborhoods, as well as the Northwestern Highway corridor.

Siver added that he anticipates more events like this to come.

“We need to keep promoting our city with a variety of events that appeal to a wide spectrum of interests and tastes.”

The tour will begin at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 27375 Bell Road, and free parking will be available.

Tickets cost $20 and are available in the lobby of the Southfield City Hall, 26000 Evergreen Road, or through Siver.

For additional information, contact Siver at (248) 569-4286.

More DoCoMoMo events to come:

DoCoMoMo — Documentation & Conservation of Buildings, Sites & Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement — headquartered in New York City, invited Southfield to join its seventh annual tour program as one of more than 50 national events planned for the weekend of Oct. 5-6.

The program spans 23 states and 40 cities across the U.S., and in addition to Southfield’s midcentury modern architecture tour, three other events will be held in southeastern Michigan:

•  Modernism Re-envisioned — 11 a.m. Oct. 5 at 1528 and 1520 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. This event is sponsored by the Detroit Area Art Deco Society.
•  A Sensitive Wrightscape: Presentation and Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer Home, Landscape and Tea House —  2:30-5:30 p.m. Oct. 6. This event is sponsored by a2 Modern.
•  Michigan Modern:  Design the Shaped America and Forging Cranbrook’s Gatescape Exhibition — 1-3 p.m. Oct. 5. This event is sponsored by Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research, along with the Cranbrook Art Museum.

For more information, visit www.docomomo-us.org/tourday.