Michigan State University

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East Lansing Modern, 1940 – 1970

East Lansing itself is on exhibit at the Michigan State University Museum as “East Lansing Modern, 1940-1970“ explores the city’s place in Michigan’s modern design heritage. Especially following World War II, East Lansing’s population grew dramatically, and with that boom came a need for additional housing for GI-Bill students and their families, as well as MSU faculty. Many bought traditional residences within walking distance of the campus, yet several embraced modernist principles and worked primarily with local architects to design their homes.

“Modernist architecture, characterized by low, flat roofs, large areas of glazing and new technologies, reflected a changing, more informal lifestyle,“ notes MSU Museum Exhibition Curator Susan J. Bandes, also MSU professor of art history and visual culture. “For modernist homes, often the street view is modest and belies the openness, use of space, light and unexpected design elements of the interior.“
Commercial, religious and professional buildings along Abbot Road are among East Lansing’s most modern, while modernist homes are sandwiched between older ones and in the northern sections of the city annexed in the 1950s.  In addition to a number of private residences, the exhibit features many recognizable modernist landmarks: Glencairn Elementary School, East Lansing Public Library, Edgewood United Church, Eastminster Church, Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, Michigan Education Association headquarters, and the Michigan State Medical Society, designed by renowned World Trade Center (1971) architect Minoru Yamasaki.
Locals will likely recognize a couple of other modernist mainstays, even if they aren’t familiar with their origins: Bell’s Pizza (formerly Dawn’s Donuts) and Biggby’s first café (originally Arby’s), both on Grand River Ave., are prime examples of “Googie“ architecture. The Googie trend, originating in California, featured steeply pitched, sharp angled roofs and a futuristic feel — making for exuberant, unrestrained designs that called attention to themselves.
Inspiration for the exhibit began with the State Historic Preservation Office’s “Michigan Modern“ project to inventory modernist architecture across the state. From there students in Bandes’ Fall 2012 “Michigan Modern“ course researched East Lansing’s architectural examples, and then Bandes and a team of research assistants completed the exhibit in the spring.  (For more, see michiganmodern.org)
A driving/biking tour is in development and in 2014, MSU Press will also publish a book by Bandes’ with a more comprehensive look at East Lansing’s architecture.
Visitors to “East Lansing Modern, 1940-1970“ will also get a look of sorts inside the modernist homes. Furnishings, small appliances, tableware and other decorative arts – some produced by MSU art faculty – will be featured in the exhibit, drawn mainly from MSU Museum and Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum collections.  Many of the designs reflect the modernist sensibilities valuing informality, simplicity, bright, optimistic color palettes and a moderate price to make them available to middle-class consumers.
Online extras:
Listen to a profile from WKAR Public Media about the “East Lansing Modern” project as it was getting under way in Fall 2012.  And a follow-up as the exhibit was being installed in April 2013.
From the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau:

Tuesday, May 14, 5 p.m.
Film screening: “East Lansing: The City We Know,“ 30-minute documentary on the history of the city; followed by exhibition tour

Saturday, June 9, 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Workshop: “How to Research Your Home,“ led by Whitney Miller, University Archivist at MSU and author of “East Lansing, Collegeville Revisited.“

Saturday, June 29, 1 p.m.
Tri-County Bicycle Association and Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Coalition Bike Tour
The tour will start at the East Lansing High School Night Activities Parking Lot (509 Burcham Dr.  East Lansing). It will last about three hours and cover seven miles with frequent stops. The rain date is June 30; same time and place.

Thursday, July 18, 5:30 – 8 p.m.
“Twilight with Frank Lloyd Wright: Goetsch-Winckler House,” a rare chance to visit the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Goetsch-Winckler House in Okemos; fundraiser for the Michigan State University Museum, the science and culture museum at MSU.

The Goetsch-Winckler House in Okemos, Mich., is a compact, one-story Usonian house with signature Frank Lloyd Wright design elements: organic relationship to the site, horizontal planes, cantilever roofs, and the embodiment of Wright’s early design philosophy for moderately priced housing. Designed for MSU art professors, the Goetsch-Winckler House is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the second of Wright’s Usonian house designs.
5:30 – 8 p.m. — Refreshments – tours – meet the homeowners
6:45 — “A Modest, Modern Masterpiece,” with Dr. Susan J. Bandes, Exhibition Curator and MSU Professor of Art History & Visual Culture
Location: 2410 Hulett Rd., Okemos (parking instructions to follow)

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