For Students

Three Michigan Architects: Part 3—George Brigham

George B. Brigham, Hazen Residence exterior

George B. Brigham, Architect, Hazen Residence exterior, Ann Arbor, MI, 1949, Courtesy of the U-M Bentley Historical Library

On view July 19–October 12, 2014

George Brigham (1889–1977) was one of the first architects to bring the ideology and practice of twentieth-century “International Style” modern architecture to Ann Arbor.  Born in Massachusetts in 1889, Brigham graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in architecture in 1913. A decade later he moved to Pasadena, California, becoming one of the many young American and European architects who went to the West Coast to experience an emerging trend: a new modern domestic architecture aesthetic being practiced there by noted European designers and architects—among them J. R. Davidson, Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, and Kem Weber.

While in Pasadena, Brigham taught at the California Institute of Technology and worked in the architecture offices of Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury, Architects. This prominent practice was noted for their spectrum of architectural styles—from Spanish Revival to Moderne. Aside from these aesthetic styles, most of the firm’s homes in Southern California were built either in the vocabulary of simple wood-frame construction or concrete blocks. It is this new sense of construction assembly and materials, and the progressive, European modern ideology, that Brigham brought with him to Ann Arbor when he was hired to teach at the University of Michigan’s architecture program in 1930 (which would officially become the College of Architecture the following year), and when he opened his own architecture practice in Ann Arbor in 1935. Brigham’s arrival in Ann Arbor predated the seminal 1932 MoMA exhibition on modern architecture—better known as the “International Style”—curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, that showcased the European modern aesthetic to the American public and architectural profession for the first time.

Brigham taught at the University of Michigan for twenty-nine years and was a central figure in the pedagogy of modern architecture. His professional practice spanned from 1935 to 1958 and mostly comprised residential commissions. His earliest works are some of the first homes in Ann Arbor that showcase this modern ideology and are considered landmarks for their innovative use of materials and technology (radiant heated floors, for example), and their design aesthetic.

While many of Brigham’s homes employed flat-roof profiles—a signature of the International Style idiom—it was his use of concrete-block and wood-frame construction that made his modern homes unique in their time. In the early 1930s in the U.S. many young architects considered themselves to be building pre-fab architecture. Unlike today’s concept of literally prefabricated building components, the 1930s notion of pre-fab was aligned with the principle of Taylorization that transformed the auto industry between 1905 and 1915. It was based on building materials fabricated in a standard 4-in. module of measurement. The module is seen in 4 x 8 in. sheets of plywood, lumber sizes such as 2 x 4, 2 x 6, and 2 x 8 in., and the standard door height of 6 ft. 8 in. This modular fabrication allowed architects to envision a progressive modern home as a collection of standard-sized parts—from construction materials to doors and windows.

Brigham’s career-long interest and research in prefabrication resulted in beautiful, tranquil modern dwellings that embrace the landscape and were designed to be contextual to their sites. Throughout his career his work was marked by an evolving refinement in the use of materials and an elegant design aesthetic that culminated in an important early body of modern domestic architecture in Ann Arbor.

 

Co-Curators

Joseph Rosa
UMMA Director

Nancy Bartlett
U-M Bentley Historical Library
Head of the University Archives Program

 

Three Michigan Architects: Part 3—George Brigham is the last in a series of three consecutive exhibitions. Part 1 of the series presented the work of David Osler (December 21, 2013–March 30, 2014) and Part 2, the work of Robert Metcalf (April 5–July 13, 2014). The series will culminate on October 5, 2014 with a symposium that will explore the importance of this circle of Ann Arbor-based architects, situating their regional body of domestic work into the larger context of modern architecture in the U.S. that developed on the East Coast and West Coast from the 1930s–1980s. A related publication is planned for Summer 2015.
This exhibition is part of the U-M Collections Collaborations series, which showcases the renowned and diverse collections of the University of Michigan. This series inaugurates UMMA’s collaboration with the Bentley Historical Library, and is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lead support for Three Michigan Architects is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research.

 

Related Programs

Three Michigan Architects: Osler, Metcalf, and Brigham / a Symposium on their Domestic Architecture in Ann Arbor

October 5, 2014, 2–6 pm
UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium, UMMA

Symposium participants include UMMA Director Joseph Rosa, Head of the University Archives Program at the Bentley Historical Library Nancy Bartlett, Bentley Associate Archivist and Head of Digital Curation Services Nancy Deromedi, and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Dean Monica Ponce del Leon, as well as faculty Claire Zimmerman, Greg Saldaña, Craig Borum, and Robert Beckley. For more information, visit http://umma.umich.edu/insider/3ma-symposium.

 

a2modern Modern Living Series: Walking Tour II of Ann Arbor Hills Modern Residences

Thursday, August 7, 5:30–7 pm
This event has limited space availability. Cost:  $10/person. Registration is required. See www.a2modern.org for registration details and logistics or email modernists@a2modern.org.

This walking tour will look at several modern homes located in one area of Ann Arbor Hills.  The tour will view the exteriors of homes designed by Robert Metcalf, William Muschenheim, David Osler and Herbert Johe.  It will provide a historical overview of the area and will conclude with an interior view of Herbert Johe’s Holcomb residence (1959).  Current homeowner Glenn Watkins will be present to answer questions.   The walking tour will be lead by Nancy Deromedi and Grace Shackman.

a2modern is a local organization dedicated to the awareness of and appreciation for mid-century architecture and design, celebrating the accomplishments of the architects, designers, builders and homeowners in Ann Arbor. UMMA is pleased to partner with a2modern to provide audiences the opportunity to experience Ann Arbor's modernist architecture in conjunction with the exhibition Three Michigan Architects: Part 3—George Brigham on view July19 –October 12, 2014.

For more information about this and other architectural tours, please contact a2modern online at a2modern.org/ or by emailing modernists@a2modern.org
 

a2modern Presents: Tour of David Osler's Former Architectural Studio

Sunday, August 10, 2–5 pm
This event has limited space availability. Cost:  $10/person. Registration is required. See www.a2modern.org for registration details and logistics or email modernists@a2modern.org.

Osler’s architectural studio was built in 1902 by the Washtenaw Light and Power (predecessor of Detroit Edison) as a place to change voltage from high to low, it had been empty since 1949. Windows were missing. The slate on the roof was damaged from the years of being jiggled by all the trains going by.  Conduit insulators were sticking out just below the roof.  The inside was a total mess.  In addition, the neighborhood, then filled with ramshackle houses, was considered a bad part of town. Osler admits “there were not many who would want it,” but he could see the possibilities.

“It was like the building was shaking hands with me,” says David Osler, describing turning a deserted electric power substation into a modern office.  He made the dilapidated shell into a useable space and then put on an addition, staying within the perimeters allowed by the structure and lot.   The tour will show how a historical building  can successfully be repurposed.  The current owners of the building, Dr. Kristine Freeark and Dr. Robert Zucker, will be in attendance to answer questions about the most recent reuse of the building. 

Light refreshments will be served.

a2modern is a local organization dedicated to the awareness of and appreciation for mid-century architecture and design, celebrating the accomplishments of the architects, designers, builders and homeowners in Ann Arbor. UMMA is pleased to partner with a2modern to provide audiences the opportunity to experience Ann Arbor's modernist architecture in conjunction with the exhibition Three Michigan Architects: Part 3—George Brigham on view July19 –October 12, 2014.

For more information about this and other architectural tours, please contact a2modern online at a2modern.org/ or by emailing modernists@a2modern.org

The exhibition Three Michigan Architects: Part 3—George Brigham is the final in a series of architectural exhibitions that also featured Michigan Architects David Osler (Part 1) and Robert Metcalf (Part 2). It is part of the U-M Collections Collaborations series, co-organized by and presented at UMMA and designed to showcase the renowned and diverse collections at the University of Michigan.

The U-M Collections Collaborations series is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lead support for Three Michigan Architects is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research.

 

Three Michigan Architects: Osler, Metcalf, and Brigham / a Symposium on their Domestic Architecture in Ann Arbor

Sunday, October 5, 2–6 pm
Helmut Stern Auditorium

The exhibition series Three Michigan Architects: Osler, Metcalf, and Brigham comes to its conclusion with a symposium that brings together faculty from the U-M School of Architecture and Urban Planning with leading figures from UMMA and the Bentley Historical Library.

Session one (2–3:30 pm) will explore the wider importance of this circle of Ann Arbor-based architects, situating their regional body of domestic work into the larger context of modern architecture in the U.S. that developed on the East Coast and West Coast from the 1930s–1980s.  Session two (4:30–6 pm) examines the role of the archive in preserving their architectural legacy and informing efforts at restoration and revival.

Participants include:
Monica Ponce de Leon (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Doug Kelbaugh (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Robert Beckley (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Claire Zimmerman (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Greg Saldaña (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Craig Borum (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Joseph Rosa (UMMA, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)
Nancy Bartlett (Bentley Historical Library)
Nancy Deromedi (Bentley Historical Library)

Refreshments will be served for attendees during the session break. Special after hours access to the associated exhibition will be available until 6:30 pm.

This program is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research.

The associated exhibition is part of the U-M Collections Collaborations series, co-organized by and presented at UMMA and designed to showcase the renowned and diverse collections at the University of Michigan. The U-M Collections Collaborations series is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lead support for Three Michigan Architects is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research.

Second image from top: George B. Brigham, Architect, La Porte Residence exterior, Ann Arbor, MI, 1940, Courtesy of the U-M Bentley Historical Library Third image from top: George B. Brigham, Architect, La Porte Residence interior, Ann Arbor MI, 1941, Courtesy of the U-M Bentley Historical Library