Thirty-four of Michigan’s most stunning architectural gems are on full display in the new book “Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy,” a passion project of author Brian D. Conway and photographer Jim Haefner that took more than two years (and a few stealthy drone shots) to document.
Conway and Haefner offered insight into their work during a presentation on April 25 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. Together, they detailed the history behind dozens of the book’s 227 photographs as well as Michigan’s influence on architecture at large.
“A lot of people ask how we came up with 34 buildings and complexes, and that was a real tough part of this whole project,” Conway told the audience. “We wanted geographic distribution across the state, and we wanted to represent Michigan architects, but also include those iconic properties of architects who came to Michigan to do their work.”
“We picked the best,” Haefner said. “This project was a dream assignment. I’ve been a photographer for 40 years, and this was definitely the culmination of that time period.”
In documenting the highlights of Michigan’s architecture, which includes the work of legends like Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson and Alexander Girard, among others, Conway and Haefner were often forced to problem solve at photo-shoots. This sometimes meant stripping a building of its banners and decorations, or even cutting down a tree for the sake of framing.
Haefner at other times had to work around Mother Nature, specifically natural lighting. He spent two days trying to capture light coming through the windows at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dorothy Turkel House in Detroit, an L-shaped house that represents Usonian Automatic design. The Turkel House is the only Wright-designed building in Detroit’s city limits.
Conway and Haefner aimed to give readers an exclusive looks of locations that aren’t readily available to the public. At the Douglas House in Harbor Springs, Haefner rode in a helicopter over Lake Michigan to showcase the contrast of the home sleek, white exterior against the lakefront woodlands.
And at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, a Eero Saarinen construction featured on the cover of the book, the duo utilized drone photography to capture the immense scale of the center in a way that very few have done before.
“I had been trying to get permission for a couple years to fly a drone there – there’s a lot of secrecy, which is why it’s not open to the public,” Haefner said. “You’ll see blinds are drawn in the design building so I couldn’t take a picture of what’s happening.”
Other locations featured in the book include the McLucas House, the Hawkins Ferry House, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, McGregor Memorial Conference Center, and Lafayette Park, among many others.
“Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy” along with its predecessor “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America” is available on Amazon for purchase. For more information about the Michigan Modern project, please visit michiganmodern.org.