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Canvas Detroit

Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian

Publication Year: 2014

Detroit’s unique and partly abandoned cityscape has scarred its image around the world for decades. But in the last several years journalists have begun to view the city through a different lens, focusing on the wide range of contemporary artists finding inspiration amid the emptiness and adding a more complex chapter to the story of a city long labeled as a haunting symbol of U.S. economic decline. In Canvas Detroit, Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian combine vibrant full-color photography of the city’s much-buzzed-about art scene with thoughtful narrative that explores the art and artists that are re-creating Detroit. Canvas Detroit captures hundreds of pieces of artwork in many forms—including large-scale and small-scale murals, sculptures, portraits, light projections, wearable art, and installations (made with wood, glass, living plants, fiber, and fabric). Works are situated in both obvious and more hidden spaces, including on and in houses, garages, factories, alleyways, doors, and walls, while some structures have been entirely transformed into art. Pincus and Christian profile creators working in Detroit, including internationally known figures like Banksy, Matthew Barney, and Tyree Guyton; prominent Detroit artists such as Scott Hocking, Jerome Ferretti, and Robert Sestock; and collectives like Power House Productions, Hygenic Dress League, the Empowerment Plan, and Theatre Bizarre. Canvas Detroit also includes an introductory essay by Mame Jackson, and contributions by John Gallagher, Michael Hodges, Rebecca Hart, and Linda Yablonsky that contextualize the current artistic moment in the city. This beautifully designed and informative volume showcases the stunning breadth and depth of artwork currently being done in Detroit. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in arts and culture in the city.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Photo Credits Frontispieces

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pp. vii

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pp. viii-xii

As an art student at the University of Michigan, I was fascinated by Detroit and began trolling its streets for photographs. This was in the eighties, and even then the city was in distress, but I still enjoyed poking around places like Brush Park with its stately mansions, many of which were already in disrepair. ...

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Marion Jackson

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pp. 1-8

And the privilege of introducing such a visually engaging book as Canvas Detroit that explores the extraordinarily creative arts of Detroit’s streets is a privilege I truly welcome. The book’s co-author and principal photographer, professional graphic designer Julie Pincus, responds personally and as an artist to the vibrant, offbeat, ever-changing art that she has encountered in the streets of Detroit ...

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How Detroit Got Its Groove Back

Michael H. Hodges

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pp. 9-11

The bikes were the first tip-off. The Detroit News, where I work, sits in an urban desert on the far west edge of Detroit’s shrunken downtown. For years, the only activity out front on Lafayette Boulevard was the rush of cars, scuttling for the nearest on-ramp to the suburbs. ...

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The Alley Project

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pp. 12-17

For years, photographer Erik Howard dreamed of opening the world’s eyes to what he witnessed daily in his neighborhood. In 2010, Howard found a way to lift the curtain with the launch of TAP (The Alley Project), an outdoor gallery showcase of street art’s possibilities. ...

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pp. 18-21

Legend has it that the famously reclusive British street artist made a pilgrimage to Detroit sometime in 2010 to add his mark to the city’s most visited industrial ruin, the crumbling old Packard car plant. Banksy’s mark in Motown features a seven-foot-by-seven-foot stenciled mural of a boy artist toting a can of red paint. ...

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Matthew Barney, Alchemist

Rebecca R. Hart

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pp. 22-27

New York–based sculptor and filmmaker Matthew Barney chose Detroit as a location to develop the prologue and second act of his epic opera, River of Fundament. The opera considers the afterlife and casts the American automobile, a surrogate for the male ego, as a principle character. ...

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pp. 28-31

If not for the lessons he learned in Detroit, a world away from the sun and sand of his St. Petersburg, Florida, home, there might be no BASK, the alias that has made him a self-taught talent known around the world. ...

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Ben Bunk

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pp. 32-35

But once the twenty-eight-year-old native New Yorker arrived, he found something more, something raw. With a bike as his only means of transportation, Bunk traveled the streets, watching the city unfold like a slow-moving animation, linked together by bewildering images of beauty and blight. ...

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Halima Cassells

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pp. 36-39

But the classroom could not compete with the allure of paint and art. They’d always whispered to her. Inevitably they won. “After teaching for six months,” says Cassells, who studied secondary education at Howard University, “I knew. I just decided that it was not going to work out for me.” ...

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Katie Craig

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pp. 40-43

Craig’s is giant, nearly as grand as the history of this storied street with its enduring emblems of American ingenuity and creativity. Grand Boulevard, which once spanned twelve uninterrupted miles, is where Berry Gordy transformed his two-family flat into Hitsville, USA, and Motown Records’ legendary Studio A. ...

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Cupcake Girls

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pp. 44-47

In Maine, she’d heard talk that Detroit was the best place to test drive her dream. Friends and fellow grads of the fine arts program at Alfred University in upstate New York were already on their way to the Motor City. “I was working three jobs and surviving,” she said. “But I was really thinking about what it means to have a life with art-making at the center.” ...

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Detroit: City of Loss and Wonder

Linda Yablonsky

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pp. 48-51

The first time I saw Detroit there was a bit of snow on the ground but somehow it wasn’t that cold. This was early in January of 2005, and the sky was silver-gray and streaked with white. All I knew about Detroit then was what everyone knew: the music (of Motown, Eminem, and Detroit house), the racial tensions, the car companies, the murder rate, and Elmore Leonard. ...

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pp. 52-59

Most people circle the building at least once before ever going in, transfixed by the odd assortment of objects on display. The man who sits high behind the counter inside the main gallery and gift shop has placed each piece with purpose. ...

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Design 99 and Power House Productions: Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert

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pp. 60-65

Yet in Detroit creative pioneers are what many people call the duo. The tag seems apt given the ambitious way that they’ve gone about using art to resuscitate a deteriorating block of abandoned homes and encouraging other artists to join their quest. ...

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Design 99 and Power House Productions: Ride It Sculpture Park

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pp. 66-67

Power House Productions received funding to create this sculptural skate park down the street from the Power House where one can literally ride the art. It is part of their outreach within the neighborhood, which is bereft of the parks and services that help build community spirit.

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Design 99 and Power House Productions with Graem Whyte: Squash House

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pp. 68-69

Lead artist Graem Whyte tests the limits of space in Squash House, a project with the goal of turning an abandoned house into a regulation-size squash court. ...

Design 99: The Juxtapoz & Power House Productions Residencies

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pp. 70

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Monica Canilao

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pp. 70-75

With proceeds from the Juxtapoz fifteenth anniversary benefit and auction, Power House Productions received funds to purchase several homes on Moran Street, which were turned over to Monica Canilao, Richard Colman, Saelee Oh, Retna, Swoon, and Ben Wolf to use as their canvases. On the following pages are the fruits of their labor. ...

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Richard Colman and Retna

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pp. 76-83

Retna’s beautifully fluid layered letterforms in a palette of black, white, and silver cover the walls, floor, interior, and exterior of the house. Internationally acclaimed, Retna has been known to paint everything from jets to walls worldwide. ...

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Saelee Oh

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pp. 84-87

Once the Five Fellows house, this property eventually came under Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert’s ownership. As part of the Juxtapoz residencies, LA-based artist Saelee Oh came to Detroit and created her whimsical animal characters throughout the house, sometimes using the Five Fellows architectural elements as well as the walls to paint, sculpt, and hang pieces from.

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pp. 88-93

New York–based artist Swoon wheatpasted art on the interior and exterior walls of another house in the Power House neighborhood, depicting its largely Bangladeshi population. ...

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Ben Wolf

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pp. 94-97

Titled Dormer House, this architectural installation incorporates the decaying wood and peeling paint of abandonment that Ben Wolf loves. Wolf attached pieces from burned-out structures in Detroit to a former home on Moran Street near the Power House. The result is a dynamic, kalideoscopic piece of art. ...

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Detroit Beautification Project

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pp. 98-111

“As it turned out,” says Eaton, “the market was horrible. The process ended up taking a year and half. I had to find some way to keep myself busy and productive.” ...

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pp. 112-123

Though he is not an artist, Schwartz is a creative rainmaker who’s as dedicated to growing the arts in Detroit as he is to extending the depths of his legendary private collection. ...

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Art and Public Places

John Gallagher

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pp. 124-127

Those who think they know Detroit because they’ve watched movies like RoboCop (set in post-apocalyptic Motor City) do not of course know much at all of our city. Take a drive of discovery on the streets of Detroit and you’ll see plenty to make you proud and a lot to make you wince. But of all the surprises that await an open-eyed and open-minded visitor, perhaps the most surprising is the abundance of art. ...

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Ron English

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pp. 128-135

“It’s a great American city with a big void in the middle of it,” says Texas-born English. “If I had my way, I would do a huge Disney-esque theme park that would be half outside, half inside. You would invite artists to design crazy rides, and you’d build it inside so that all of the lines were like these art installations. ...

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Greg Fadell

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pp. 136-141

Nothing stirs him. He finds form in nothing and nothing pleases him more than illuminating its possibilities to those who believe art must always be about something. ...

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Jerome Ferretti

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pp. 142-145

In Corktown, everyone knows the man who made the cat, the one so big it’s called Monumental Kitty. When Ferretti, a trained sculptor and painter, set out to design Monumental Kitty, he was ironically just trying to help cement the legacies of two neighborhoods, not his own. The cat wasn’t even Ferretti’s first idea. ...

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Five Fellows

In that house, the Five Fellows, as they came to be known around Detroit, did inspired things. As artists, they added new dimensions to their creativity, and they stretched the function of architecture, forging five imaginative yet unrelated design concepts under one single-family roof. ...

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Ellie Abrons

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pp. 148-149

Abrons and Adam Fure’s Tingle Room teases the imagination by rethinking the design materials typically called upon in the creation of floors, walls, window dressings, even paint colors. “Materials are carved, painted, smothered, or otherwise manipulated in order to extend their possible qualitative effects,’’ she explains.

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Meredith Miller

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pp. 150-151

Miller created the only design fully visible from the outside of the house, an adjustable door, allowing privacy and security as well as an artful way to showcase the interior to a curious public.

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Thom Moran

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pp. 152-153

Using minimal supplies and a minimalist’s vision, Moran replaced the house’s missing staircase, transforming it into a multipurpose, unexpected work of art. With a bleacher-type design, the stairs function as a place to linger, to display items like books, and is a natural place to begin an exploration of the house. ...

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Catie Newell

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pp. 154-155

Newell installed 1,000 glass tubes through the walls and roof of the garage in an exploration of the ways that materials and weather conditions, primarily light, can alter perspective and experience. Newell’s use of the tubes, along with solar rooftop panels, created a mysterious glowing effect around the garage at night.

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Rosalyne Shieh

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pp. 156-157

Rosalyne Shieh and Troy Schaum redefined the function of a room by slicing a huge diagonal swath through the top of the house to create a skylight space, complete with an octagonal staircase, inviting a new way to see the neighborhood.

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Tyree Guyton

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pp. 158-167

Coming from any other artist, the words above might seem too mighty a declaration to believe. But in Detroit, Guyton is the undisputed godfather of street art. In everything he does, he’s proven to be a man determined to build community. ...

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Scott Hocking

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pp. 168-175

The story is more than a decade old, but it’s a foundational tale in the making of one of Motown’s most recognized artists. What the world already knows of Hocking is true: he bends the imagination by fusing decaying objects into experimental sculptures and photography displays. ...

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Judith Hoffman

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pp. 176-179

A New Yorker, Hoffman was invited to Detroit as a resident artist to pull off a project that on paper seemed too complex to be possible. Her vision: a one-to-one replica of a ten-thousand-square-foot gallery constructed completely out of paper in just one month. ...

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Gregory Holm and Matthew Radune

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pp. 180-187

For the sake of art, Greg Holm and Matthew Radune went a step beyond. On a desolate block on Detroit’s east side, in the dead of winter, they completely froze a house. The house they froze back in 2010, a doomed two-story victim of foreclosure, turned heads, drew cameras, inspired awe, and eventually became a series of breathtaking photographs and prints. ...

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Hygienic Dress League

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pp. 188-193

Of course, you’d have to be a close observer to know HDL’s ultimate mission. Hardly anyone ever guesses that the collective is actually a duly registered corporation. And almost everyone raises an eyebrow when the Coys attempt to explain their postmodern purpose, to promote the absurdity and gluttony of promotion. ...

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Kevin Joy

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pp. 194-201

The G-word—graffiti—is often where most minds race to describe his whimsical paintings of grasshoppers, soup cans, and sunrises. Even to Joy, the association is understandable. He has, after all, coveted towering abandoned office buildings as his canvas. ...

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Eno Laget

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pp. 202-207

Fans know to watch the streets carefully, for as soon as he pastes one of his massive and edgy street posters, usually 36 by 72 inches, its days are numbered. ...

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Nicole MacDonald

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pp. 208-213

This is how Nicole MacDonald explains her motivation for moving around Detroit, usually by bike, in search of spaces to leave behind glimpses of the beauty and tragedy she sees. ...

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Hubert Massey

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pp. 214-219

Before he became a known name around the city, Massey spent his days up in the air, sometimes up as high as two hundred feet, painting photorealistic Gannett billboards, in oil, by hand. For thirteen years, he cranked them out like new cars running down the line. ...

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Catie Newell

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pp. 220-223

One of the realms where she is most at home working is with abandoned things and confined spaces. That explains a portion of Newell’s passion for creating in Detroit, including the inventive way she and thesis partner Maciej Kaczynski reimagined the exterior of an old North Corktown auto shop that had been boarded up with cinder blocks. ...

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Object Orange

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pp. 224-227

In what seemed like a wave, orange houses began to pop up along the city’s major freeways. The color was too halting not to notice, Tiggerific orange to be exact. ...

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Popps Packing: Graem Whyte and Faina Lerman

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pp. 228-231

“Artist,” he insists, is too narrow to capture the ways he reimagines and reshapes once-ordinary objects. “I like the freedom of exploring and creating space,’’ says forty-two-year-old Whyte. “I like creating good vibes.’’ ...

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Yvette Rock

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pp. 232-237

“From my first visit, when I was coming to the city as a grad student in Ann Arbor, I was hooked,” says Rock, who holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s from Cooper Union in New York. ...

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John Sauvé

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pp. 238-241

He says he doesn’t need one. He’s enlisted a small army of foot soldiers to make his presence known. They number only thirty but they turn heads everywhere they go, igniting a flurry of curiosity that leads straight back to Sauvé. ...

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Veronika Scott

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pp. 242-247

That’s how twenty-three-year-old Veronika Scott typically answers the question of how she transformed a class project into a bold example of using design to unravel a great social dilemma: “It couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world but Detroit.” ...

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Robert Sestock

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pp. 248-255

“I was thrust into this environment where everybody was making crazy stuff; using found objects, taking things apart and reconstructing them,” recalls Sestock, who grew up in suburban Birmingham, Michigan. “The crazier it was, the better.” ...

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Kobie Solomon

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pp. 256-259

“Essentially, it’s a portrait of the city,” he says of the 8,750-square-foot mural, which features, as its central figure, a lion-like creature taken from Greek mythology. “It’s obvious if you sit in the parking lot and look at it a bit.” ...

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Theatre Bizarre

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pp. 260-269

Over the years, many have tried, calling the show everything from a macabre backyard costume party to an adult Disneyland on acid, plopped smack in the middle of a hardscrabble section of Detroit near the Michigan State Fairgrounds. ...

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Katie Yamasaki

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pp. 270-273

In Detroit, the name Yamasaki is typically uttered in reference to a lone creative force, the late modern architect Minoru Yamasaki. From his offices in Detroit, he emerged as a global synonym for lean yet elegant structures. It was Yamasaki who laid the vision and captivated the world with his design for the World Trade Center. ...


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pp. 274-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338803
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814340233

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 450
Publication Year: 2014