IN 1966 WHILE I WAS STUDYING AT CRANBROOK FOR MY MASTERS DEGREE, BY DOING THE VERTICAL CITY FOR DETROIT WHICH I LATER REFINED TO BECOME THE BIOMORPHIC BIOSPHERE FOR LOS ANGELES, GLEN PAULSEN, MY MENTOR AT CRANBROOK RECOMMENDED ME FOR A SUMMER JOB WITH CHARLES BLESSING, THE DIRECTOR OF THE DETROIT CITY PLANNING . HIS LOVE WAS MONUMENT VALLEY AND HE WANTED TO TURN DETROIT INTO THAT LOOK. HE HAD VISION AND RESPECTED ME.
I TOOK A GOVERNMENT EXAM FOR THE POSITION. THE WRITTEN WAS A CHALLENGE FOR ME, BUT I EXCELLED AT THE DESIGN PART. I NEVER KNEW WHETHER I PASSED OR NOT, BUT ENDED UP WITH THE JOB, AT THE LOWEST LEVEL, EVEN THOUGH I HAD YEARS OF ARCHITECTURAL EXPERIENCE.
THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT DID PROJECTS TO INSPIRE LOCAL DETROIT DEVELOPMENT. SO MY ASSIGNMENT WAS TO GIVE A LOOK OF WHAT WAS POSSIBLE.
THE PROJECT WAS THE NEW CENTER AREA. A MASTER PLAN THAT WAS TO INCORPORATE A NEW GM CHEVROLET BUILDING ACROSS GRAND BLVD. FROM GM WORLDS HEADQUARTERS, AND ACROSS SECOND STREET FROM THE FISHER THEATER COMPLEX. THERE WAS THE ALBERT KAHN BUILDING TO THE NORTH DONE IN SIMILAR ART DECO STYLE AS THE FISHER BUILDING.
TOD WILLIAMS, ORIGINALLY FROM DETROIT OF RECENT ARCHITECTURAL FAME, DOING SENSITIVE TASTE CONSERVATIVE BUILDINGS FOR RICH MUSEUM CLIENTS, WAS WORKING THAT SUMMER AS WELL IN THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT. HE STUDYING AT PRINCETON. I CAN NOT REMEMBER THE DIALOGUE, BUT WE WERE FRIENDS AND WENT TO A DETROIT TIGERS BASEBALL GAME TOGETHER. HARVEY FERRERO RENOWN ARCHITECT IN DETROIT, MENTIONING TO ME RECENTLY THAT HE SHOWED TOD A BUILDING OF HIS , BECAUSE TODS BROTHER LIKED IT. TOD REMARKING AFTER THE TOUR THAT IT WAS NOT HIS THING.
GUNNAR BIRKERTS, A LOCAL DETROIT ARCHITECT OF NOTE AND STILL ALIVE AND DOING A MUSEUM IN LATVIA, HAD DONE A COLLEGE MASTER PLAN THAT USED RAISED HORIZONTAL BUILDINGS. I WAS IMPRESSED WITH THAT IDEA AND IT INSPIRED ME TO DO MY APPROACH. THE LAST TIME I SAW GUNNAR WAS AT A CONFERENCE IN BANIFF CANADA AROUND 1982 WHERE THEY HAD FLOWN US IN TO GIVE LECTURES. HE COULD NOT WAIT AROUND FOR MY PRESENTATION, BECAUSE HE WENT OFF TO SKI. GOOD ENOUGH REASON. HE DID COMMENT, THAT HE LIKED MY DRAWINGS AND I SHOULD MAKE A BOOK.
DETROIT HAS A SEVERE WINTER THAT DEMANDS BEING INSIDE. THE GM HEADQUARTERS WAS DESIGNED BY ALBERT KALN , THE LARGEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD WHEN CONSTRUCTED. THE FISHER THEATER BUILDING BUILT IN 1928 WAS HERALDED AS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BUILDING IN THE WORLD AT THE TIME. THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH UNDERGROUND SHOPPING ARCADES. I WAS REALLY CLUELESS TO THIS WHEN I DID MY SCHEME. I LOOKED AT THE GM BUILDING AS A MONSTER AND THE FISHER BUILDING AS A RELIC TO BE PRESERVED. THE ALBERT KAHN BUILDING WAS AN EXTENSION OF THE FISHER BUILDING. THE SITE I WAS GIVEN WAS A PARKING LOT WITH A FEW LOW INSIGNIFICANT BUILDINGS . THE AREA WAS DEPRESSING .
ALBERT KAHN WAS AN ARCHITECT- ENGINEER THAT EXCELLED AT BUILDING FACTORIES. HE PROVIDED TOTAL SERVICE AND ORGANIZED ALL ASPECTS OF BUILDING THE FACTORIES. HIS MIND WAS AN ASSEMBLY LINE FOR FACTORIES AND WORKED FAST. STALIN HAD HIM DO 500 FACTORIES FOR HIM IN RUSSIA AND THIS ATTRIBUTED TO THE DEFEAT OF NAZI ARMY, BECAUSE OF THE RUSSIAN INDUSTRIAL CAPABILITIES. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BATTLES TOOK PLACE IN STALINGRAD AT ONE OF KAHN’S FACTORIES. THE FIGHT FOR STALINGRAD BEING THE TURNING POINT OF WORLD WAR TWO.
KAHN IN 1906 DID A FACTORY FOR PACKARD AUTO THAT WAS BUILT OUT OF CONCRETE AND WAS WELL LITE. THIS LEAD TO THOUSANDS OF FACTORIES FOR KAHN. KAHN’S TRADEMARK, WAS WELL LITE NATURAL LIGHTING WITH SLOPED GLASS ROOFS , UNINTERRUPTED FLOOR SPACE, HEATED AND VENTED . BEFORE KAHN , THE FACTORIES WERE BUILT OUT OF WOOD AND PRONE TO FIRE. GROPIUS WAS SAID TO BE INFLUENCED BY KAHNS FACTORIES.
DETROIT IS MOTOWN, BESIDES THE MANUFACTURING OF CARS, IT HAS A HORIZONTAL LAYOUT. THE NEW CENTER WAS CHOSEN, BECAUSE IT WAS THE CENTER OF THE SPRAWLING CITY. FISHER, THE AUTO BODY BUILDER, PICKED THE SPOT TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. IT IS MILES FROM THE REAL DOWNTOWN DETROIT ON THE RIVER.
THE STREET GRID AND PROPERTY LINES MAKE A NATURAL PATTERN OF PLAYING THE ORTHOGONAL 3 D GAME. THE RECTANGLE BEING THE COST EFFECTIVE WAY OF ARRANGING SPACE. IT IS THE PATTERN OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT.
I MADE A LARGE RAISED PLAZA OVER PARKING WITH PERIMETER SHOPS ON GRADE. WITH FOUNTAINS ETC. THE NEW CHEVROLET BUILDING ON THE RIGHT ENCLOSING THE PLAZA. THE GM SAW TOOTH BUILDING IS IN THE FOREGROUND.
THE PLAZA WITH FISHER BUILDING ON THE LEFT ON SECOND STREET, THE ALBERT KAHN BUILDING STRAIGHT AHEAD AND THE NEW CHEVROLET BUILDING OVER GRAND BLVD. ON THE RIGHT. THE BRIDGES WERE BUILDINGS IN THEMSELVES THAT PROVIDED EXCELLENT DRAMATIC OFFICE SPACES. THERE WERE ROOF TOP PARKS .
THE STRUCTURAL SYSTEM WAS A HUGE WIDE FLANGE BEAM WITH A WEB TRUSS DOWN THE MIDDLE WITH FLOORS CANTILEVERING OUT FROM THE CENTER TRUSS WEB. A BIT IMPRACTICAL, BUT IF THE BRIDGES BECAME BOX BEAMS, IT WOULD NOT HAVE CHANGED THE LOOK NOR PATTERN ALL THAT MUCH. THE VERTICAL SUPPORTS WERE THE CIRCULATIONS AND MECHANICAL CORES.
PAUL RUDOLPH WAS DOING FANTASTIC INK RENDERING AT THE TIME, AND I USED THAT TECHNIQUE OF STRAIGHT LINES TO DEVELOP ALL THE DRAMA. I HAVE BEEN ALARMED AT THE ENDLESS FACADE OF THE FISHER BUILDING, THINKING IT WAS TOO LONG. BUT LOOKING AT A RECENT PHOTO, MY DRAWING IS CORRECT.
THESE DRAWING WERE 48″ BY 36″ I SPENT ENDLESS HOURS CRANKING THEM OUT. ONE LOOKING AT THEM UP-CLOSE IS OVERWHELMED. MORT PERSKY, AN EDITOR OF THE DETROIT FREE PREE SAW THEM, HE TRACKED ME DOWN AND WE DID THE THREE COVER STORIES FOR DETROIT MAGAZINE, ALL OF WHICH I HAVE PREVIOUSLY BLOGGED,
KERN BLOCK, VERTICAL ROAD, AND THE GREAT STADIUM.
I REMEMBER VAGUELY SHOWING THEM TO SOME GM EXECUTIVE IN THE GM BUILDING, BUT NOTHING REAL FORMAL TO SELL THE SCHEME. CHARLES BLESSING BEING THE SALESMAN . CHARLES BEING A PLANNER, ARCHITECT AND ENGINEER AND WELL RESPECTED AS AN URBAN PLANNER. I WAS YOUNG AND NEW TO THE GAME OF BIG BUSINESS. I HAVE ALWAYS LIVED FOR DESIGN, WHILE BUSINESS PEOPLE SEE IT DIFFERENTLY. THE PEOPLE I CAN TALK TO ARE OTHER SKILLED DESIGNER. IT TAKES A BIG PERSONALITY TO UNDERSTAND MY VISIONS. AT GM THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. ALTHOUGH DETROIT AND PHILADELPHIA WERE RECOGNIZED AS THE BEST CITY PLANNING DEPARTMENTS IN THE COUNTRY AT THAT TIME.
I DID NOT GET INTO THE PLANNING ISSUES THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUMMER RIOTS OF 1967, BUT OBVIOUSLY PARTS OF THE SOCIETY WERE NOT BEING LISTENED TO NOR HELPED. DURING THE DETROIT RIOT I WANTED TO GO DOWN TOWN TO HELP OUT. I WAS TOLD AT THAT POINT OF RECKLESSNESS, A WHITE MAN WAS THE EMEMY EVEN WHEN TRYING TO HELP. I HAD TO RELATE THIS TO MY PARTNER MICHAEL RENDLER YEARS LATER IN THE 1992 LA RIOT , WHEN MICHAEL HAD A RENTAL APARTMENT IN THE RIOT AREA AND WANTED TO HELP OUT.
I CAN RELATE NOW, HAVING NO JOB AND I AM ENVIOUS OF OTHERS WITH PAYING JOBS. I BEING WILLING TO WORK ,BUT NOBODY WANTING ME TO WORK. A CHALLENGING STATE OF MIND. WE LIVING IN A SOCIETY THAT JUDGES PEOPLE WORTH BY THE MONEY THEY HAVE. NOT BY WHETHER YOU WANT TO WORK AND NOBODY WILL HIRE YOU.
MY SIMPLE TAKE TO AN ALL ENCOMPASSING SOCIAL DILEMMA. UNOBSTRUCTED FREE EDUCATION BEING THE TRUE LIFE SAVER, AND YET I HAVE A TON OF THAT.
THE AUTO INDUSTRY WAS NOT THERE TO SEEK BEAUTY LIKE IN THE TWENTIES IN DETROIT. TIMES CHANGED. THERE WAS NOBODY TO PROTECT DETROIT, AND THE WONDERFUL BUILDINGS BUILT WERE NOT TAKEN CARE OF. THE VITALITY OF THE CITY DIED. THE MIDDLE CLASS MOVED TO SUBURBIA.
MY FATHER WAS RAISED IN DETROIT AND SAW IT ALL HAPPEN IN THE GLORY DAYS. MY GRANDFATHER WAS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL ENGINEERS FOR HENRY FORD IN THE MODEL T DAYS, AND WAS AT ONE TIME BRIEFLY IN BUSINESS WITH EDSEL FORD DOING INVENTIVE DESIGNS. MY GRANDFATHER STEPPED INTO STOP A FIGHT BETWEEN RENTERS AND GOT HIT OVER THE HEAD WITH A HAMMER WHICH ENDED HIS CAREER AS AN ENGINEER, BECAUSE OF EPILEPSY SEIZURES THAT RESULTED. AFTER THE ACCIDENT, MY FATHER ENDED UP WORKING THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL TO MAKE ENDS MEET FOR HIS FAMILY. MY FATHER WAS GOOD LOOKING, CHARMING, CULTURED AND SMART- AND WAS BRIEFLY ENGAGED TO EDSEL FORD’S DAUGHTER , BUT LEFT HER TO GO WEST AND NEVER CAME BACK. A GOOD THING FOR ME. I WAS CREATED.
THE CHEVROLET BUILDING FROM THE OUTSIDE ALL WRAPPED WITH GLASS. I HAD NOT MADE THE CONNECTION OF MY GREEN CONCERNS I WAS DOING AT CRANBROOK TO THE REAL WORLD OF DEVELOPMENT. BUT ALL THAT COULD HAPPEN IN THIS PATTERN.
VIEW OF FISHER BUILDING IN THE DISTANCE ACROSS THE RAISED PLAZA AND 2ND STEET,
THE INTERIOR OF THE CHEVROLET BUILDING ENVISIONED AS A DISPLAY MUSEUM FOR FUTURISTIC CARS AND THE LATEST SPORTY MODELS LIKE THE CORVETTE.
THE COUNTER TO GREENFIELD VILLAGE OF FORD MOTORS, THAT DEALT WITH HISTORY. THIS DISPLAY DEALT WITH THE FUTURE. THE FLOORS CANTILEVERING OUT OF THE EXTERIOR WALLS. THAT OBVIOUSLY NEEDED SOME CREATIVE SOLUTION. THE SPACE WAS THIS CAVERNOUS VERTICAL ELEMENT WHICH IS COMMON NOW, BUT IN 1966 A BIG DEAL.
I WAS INTO DEVELOPING A SYSTEM THAT TIED THE WHOLE CITY TOGETHER WITH A BRIDGING THREE DIMENSIONAL PATTERN. STILL A DYNAMIC IDEA THAT COULD BE IMPLEMENTED TODAY. ESPECIALLY WITH ALL THE GREEN STUFF AND TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO INTERACT IN THE CITY. WOODWARD CORRIDOR WAS JUST TO THE EAST ON THE RIGHT OF THE NEW CENTER AREA. WOODWARD BEING A MAJOR CORRIDOR SOUTH AND NORTH CONNECTING A BUNCH OF SUBURBAN COMMUNITIES , INCLUDING BLOOMFIELD HILLS , WHERE CRANBROOK ART SCHOOL THRIVED AND NUMEROUS AUTO EXECUTIVES LIVED IN MANSIONS.
THIS IS THE PERSONAL NEW CENTER BOOKLET THAT I COMPOSED, BUT THERE WAS AN OFFICIAL LARGER BOOKLET OF VARIOUS SCHEMES THAT INCLUDED OTHER PARTS OF THE CITY, THAT WAS DISTRIBUTED BY THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT AT THE TIME.
THERE WAS A SLUMP IN GM CAR SALES IN 1966. THEN THE DETROIT RIOTS IN SUMMER OF 1967 WAS A FLASH POINT TO CREATE THE DISASTER THAT LED TO THE PRESENT DETROIT . DETROIT WAS A BOOMING PLACE FROM 1905 – 1928 FULED BY THE AUTO INDUSTRY. READING ABOUT HOW THE FISHER BROTHERS FELT ABOUT POURING MONEY INTO THE PHYSICAL COMMUNITY WAS REFRESHING. SOMETHING LACKING IN OUR CITIES TODAY. BUT THE GREAT DEPRESSION OF 1928 TEMPERED THAT SPIRIT. EVEN THE BOOM YEARS OF WORLD WAR TWO AND POST WAR YEAR BOOM, DETROIT DID NOT SEE THE SAME INTEREST OF PUBLIC PROJECTS RETURNING. THERE WAS A FEAR THAT AN ATOM BOMB WOULD BE DROPPED ON DETROIT AND WIPE OUT OUR TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY, SO PLANTS WERE BUILT ELSEWHERE. IN 1966 IT WAS A DYING TOWN EXCEPT FOR MO TOWN. THE STADIUM THEY BUILT IN PONTIAC, WAS 31 MILES NORTH OF DETROIT CITY CENTER.
THERE ARE BOOKS OUT ON THE VACANT FACTORIES OF DETROIT AND THE DEMISE OF PUBLIC BUILDINGS INCLUDING THE TRAIN STATION. LUCIA SMALL, MY FILM MAKER DAUGHTER CLAIMS YOU CAN BUY LOFTS FOR $25,OOO IN DETROIT NOW. URBAN FARMS ARE BEING PROPOSED IN AREAS THAT USE TO BE DENSE HOUSING.
GROSS POINT AND BLOOMFIELD HILLS CONTINUE TO THRIVE WITH RICH HOMES FOR THE TOP BRASS. MICHIGAN HAS BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE, DOTTED WITH PRISTINE LAKES. THE MOSQUITOS ARE A PROBLEM IN THE SUMMER NEAR THE LAKES.
WHAT WAS NEEDED AND STILL NEEDED WAS MAJOR IDEAL DEVELOPMENT. I GAVE GM THE OPTION IN 1966. THEY ENDED UP BUILDING MINOR PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES AND ADDING CONSERVATIVE BUILDINGS SURROUNDING A PARK. IGNORING THE ALBERT KAHN BUILDING TO THE NORTH. ALL VERY BORING AND UNINSPIRED THE RESULT OF WHICH CREATED A DULL NEW CENTER AREA. GM EVENTUALLY MOVED OUT , I WONDER IF MY SCHEME HAD BEEN IMPLEMENTED WOULD GM HAVE STAYED, BECAUSE MY SHEME DID PROJECT A PROGRESSIVE IMAGE OF BEING A WORLD LEADER, PLUS BEING IN A FUN PLACE TO WORK. ANOTHER WHAT IF.
DETROIT GOT WHAT IT DESERVED. THE GREED OF BIG BUSINESS SHUTTING OUT THE PUBLIC, CAME BACK TO HAUNT THEM. EVEN WHEN THEY WERE BLATANTLY WARNED WITH THE RIOTS. THE BIG IDEA ADVENTURE SOULS OF HENERY FORD, KAHN. AND THE FISHER BROTHERS WERE DEAD.
CITY PLANNING IS DIFFICULT WHEN YOU HAVE BUILDINGS AND NEIGHBORHOODS TO RESPECT THAT CHALLENGE THE CHANGING TIMES. THE CONFUSION OF THE MODERN MOVEMENT IN CONFLICT WITH HISTORY AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THAT. URBAN RENEWAL TRYING TO HELP, BUT OFTEN RESULTED IN BANAL DESTRUCTIVE SOLUTIONS, DESTROYING THE BEST OF THE PAST. THE URBAN PLANNERS ARE ON THIN ICE TRYING TO MAKE BOLD SOLUTIONS, WITH SO MANY VARIOUS VOICES TO ORCHESTRATE TO GET ANYTHING DONE OF SIGNIFICANCE .
IN THE PRESENT, WHEN KIDS HAVE TO PAY TO DO SPORTS OR THE ARTS, SOMETHING IS WRONG. THE RICH FORGET, THAT IF THE MASSES CAN NOT AFFORD TO HOUSE, CLOTH, FEED AND EDUCATE THEIR FAMILIES, THEY ERRUPT AND THE RICH SUFFER. IT IS HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF. GREED BEING SELF DESTRUCTIVE.
A PERSONAL NOTE, I WILL BE GIVING A LECTURE FOR HMC IN SAN BERNARDINO CA. AT 12 PM, MAY 1, 2012 AT THE GREEN AWARD WINNER – FRONTIER PROJECT IN RANCHO CUCAMONGA, PART OF A GREEN ARCHITECTURAL LECTURE SERIES. YOU MIGHT GIVE THEM A CALL AND TALK TO ROBERT YOUNG AT HMC 909 989 9979 IF YOU WANT TO ATTEND. THERE IS VERY LIMITED SEATING FOR MY GUESTS. FRONTIER PROJECT, 10435 Ashford Street, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730-2800
FISHER BUILDING, NOTICE RAISED PEDESTRIAN CORRIDORS OVER GRAND BLVD.. I DID HAVE SOME INFLUENCE
LOBBY OF FISHER BUILDING, ALBERT KAHN, ARCHITECT 1927
IF YOU HAVE THE TIME, THE FOLLOWING IS WORTH READING. SOME EXCERPTS I TOOK FROM AN EXTENSIVE ARTICLE. IT MAKES YOU WANT TO BE A CAPITALIST.
BY DAN AUSTIN OF HISTORIC DETROIT.ORG
The Fisher — built by the Fisher brothers of “Body by Fisher” fame — opened Sept. 1, 1928, at Second Avenue and Grand Boulevard. Once known as the Cathedral to Commerce, the 441-foot tower is decked to the nines in fancy marbles, mosaics, soaring, painted ceilings and a whole lot of brass and bronze. This world of shops, theater, art and architectural beauty is renowned architect Albert Kahn’s masterpiece, “a superbly designed complex which displays some of the finest craftsmanship in any Art Deco style building constructed in the U.S. in the 1920s,” the National Park Service says
But unlike many Detroit millionaires of today, the Fisher brothers often used their wealth to better the city and its people. They gave millions to countless charities, civic causes, churches, educational institutions, and to making Detroit one of the finest cities in the world.
To that end, the Fishers commissioned Kahn in 1927 and essentially told him to go wild. Simply put, the Detroit News wrote in 2001, the brothers told the architect to build them “the most beautiful building in the world” and that quality would not be sacrificed in order to save money. It was an architect’s dream project.
The brothers wanted more than just an office tower to serve as the company’s headquarters, they wanted the building to also serve as a center for shopping and entertainment. The brothers did not plan on profiting from the building, rather they viewed it as a gift to Detroit. A Free Press headline in January 1927 referred to it as the brothers’ “huge testimonial to their faith in Detroit.”
For the sculpture, mosaics and frescoes, Kahn turned to Geza R. Maroti, an artist from Budapest, Hungary. Maroti was a leader in his nation’s art movement, and Hungary entrusted him to prepare foreign exhibitions and decorate the buildings for them. He also was associated with Eli Saarinen and working at the renowned Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills.
Maroti packed his work in the Fisher with symbolism, focusing mostly on two ideas: The wealth and power of the United States expressed through commerce and transportation, and American culture and civilization through music and drama. The eagles with their wings slightly open, ready to take flight, symbolize an America ready to advance to greater things. Other eagles in and on the Fisher have their wings outstretched, symbolizing the power of the United States. Those with their wings tucked in, in a sheltering manner, show the nation’s strength and that it is sound. The victorious eagles of Zeus, with their wings spread against a purple background, hover above the entrance to the theater. They echo those that flew above the conquering armies of Greece. They signify the dedication of theater to high ideals, the genius and freedom of creativity and art and the progress of drama.
The Fisher, New Center and General Motors buildings were all joined together by a series of underground passageways lined with shops. These tunnels are still open today, though many of the storefronts are not in use.
The Fisher was built with an 11-story parking garage in the rear with room for 1,100 automobiles. The garage was attached to the building, so tenants who worked on the first 11 floors were afforded the then-luxury of parking on the same floor as their offices. But the real innovation was the garage’s ramp system, which was worked out at the General Motors Proving Ground. Kahn implemented a double helix design that allowed cars to go down and up on the same ramp at the same time. Today, most garages use this technique, but at the time, Kahn’s garage was groundbreaking.
The L-shaped landmark was originally supposed to be a three-building complex and the largest commercial building in the world. There was to have been a taller, 60-story central tower flanked by the current 29-story Fisher Building on the right and an identical tower on the left. This is why the tower of the Fisher Building is aligned to the far right instead of centered. The Great Depression, which hit the year after the building opened, shelved the grand plans to build the other two towers. The mammoth arcade that stretches from Grand Boulevard to Lothrop and Second to the west was originally to bisect the entire length of the three-building complex that was to extend all the way to Third Avenue.