Wirt Rowland designed the former Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center

 Current photograph of the Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center with the Native American sculpture just visible at the lower right.  Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017.

Current photograph of the Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center with the Native American sculpture just visible at the lower right.  Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017.

Designing Detroit:  Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture by Michael G. Smith.  Great Lakes Series, Wayne State University Press, 2017.

Just a few words here about the book Designing Detroit:  Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture.

If you are fascinated, as I am these days by all things Detroit, it is well worth your consideration!  Rowland designed some iconic Detroit skyscrapers including the Penobscot and Guardian Buildings while working for the Smith Hinchman & Grylls architectural firm in Detroit.  At the beginning, he was a self-trained architect, who was encouraged by his mentors to finish a degree in architecture at Harvard.  One of those mentors was Albert Kahn.  Under Kahn's direction, Rowland worked on the design of the Ford Motor Car Company office building in Highland Park and the General Motors Building.  And by 1922, Rowland was the highest paid designer in Detroit, according to the website Historic Detroit.  (http://www.historicdetroit.org/architect/wirt-c-rowland/ )

 Exterior sculpture by Corrado Parducci, on the Michigan National Bank at 77 Monroe Center.  Photograph by Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017.

Exterior sculpture by Corrado Parducci, on the Michigan National Bank at 77 Monroe Center.  Photograph by Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017.

Wirt Rowland has a place in Grand Rapids architectural history.  I picked up at the book at the Grand Rapids Public Library, and as soon as I began reading it I realized that Rowland had a place on the Grand Rapids Buildings website.  Rowland designed two important buildings in the downtown streetscape, the former Michigan National Bank Building at 77 Monroe Center NW, with the wonderful art deco details (currently under renovation), and the Michigan Bell Telephone Building across from Kendall College of Art & Design.   Both of these buildings have strong similarities to other Rowland buildings.   

There is so much to digest in this book; it is not a short or a light read.  But it is well worth the reader's time.  The narrative sheds light on Rowland as an individual who did not build a beautiful home for himself, but rather lived modestly in an apartment so that he could save his earnings to travel extensively.   The book is particularly rich in its illustrations which include many period photographs of buildings and, especially interesting,  intricate drawings of building details.  

One more thing that made it particularly interesting and fun for me.  I asked our 101 year-old architect friend, E. John Knapp, who's memory is stellar and always has such wonderful memories to share as we document his own life as architect.   Knapp remembered Rowland well from his own days as a young architect working for Smith Hinchman and Grylls, especially the times when Rowland would invite Knapp into his office for a chat.  That interaction was particularly meaningful for the young architect, and this book is an important contribution to Michigan's architectural history.   P. VanderPloeg

Link to Amazon.com for more information on this book:  https://www.amazon.com/Designing-Detroit-Rowland-American-Architecture/dp/0814339794/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505140419&sr=8-1&keywords=designing+detroit

 

 

COMING SOON:   A REVIEW OF THE EMBRACE OF BUILDINGS BY CALVIN PROFESSOR LEE HARVEY.