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  • Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie by Susan J. Bandes
  • Dale Allen Gyure
Susan J. Bandes, Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2016. 320 pp. $49.85 (cloth).

Mid-century modern design is trendy. You can see it everywhere in mass culture, whether associated with the fictional world (the Mad Men series) or the real (the Design Within Reach retail chain). With the growing popular enthusiasm for all things mid-century, art and architectural historians have begun to realize that scholarship on this recent past is rather thin compared to other, more distant time periods. The list of mid-century scholars is growing, and more monographs are appearing on architecture and design "giants" like Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, and Alexander Girard. But beyond the many studies of suburban history and the development of ranch houses, we do not know enough about the everyday modernism that sprouted across the country after World War II. As researchers begin to fill the gaps in our understanding, they would do well to model their writings on Susan J. Bandes's Mid- Michigan Modern. The book capitalizes on a superb location—Lansing/East Lansing, Michigan—with its intriguing mixture of architecture by superstars like Frank Lloyd Wright and Minoru Yamasaki, lesser stars like Hugh Stubbins Jr. and Alden Dow, and talented local designers like Kenneth C. Black to examine what the adoption of modern architecture looked like at the local level. It is not a story unique to the Lansing area or to the Midwest, but it is important, although rarely told.

Bandes relates that story mainly through the medium of residential suburban architecture. The book's ten chapters break down into two distinct sections. Most of the text, comprising the book's first seven chapters, investigates built and unbuilt home designs and communities for the Lansing/East Lansing metropolitan area. In the last three chapters, Bandes reviews the public, educational, commercial, and religious expressions of local modernism that brought new architectural ideas to these cities.

The initial focus on houses allows Bandes to begin with a chapter devoted [End Page 179] to an appropriate subject: Frank Lloyd Wright. The legendary architect's connections with Michigan were widespread. In mid-Michigan alone he contributed almost three decades' worth of designs (although mostly unbuilt), totaling twelve projects and a cooperative community. The author explores all of these Wright creations, some of which receive scholarly attention for the first time in Bandes's book, tying them to the architect's Usonian vision for living. Perhaps most interesting is the way Bandes ends the chapter with a few paragraphs on Lansing-area houses either influenced by Wright or designed by one of his associates.

Chapter 2 extends that influence to Alden Dow, a Michigan architect of considerable talent whose work included five mid-Michigan homes (four were built). Dow is among the most accomplished of Wright's former apprentices, alongside such luminaries as John Lautner and Fay Jones. Like them, Dow used Wright as a foundation from which to develop an idiosyncratic version of a nature-based, organic architecture. Bandes hints at Dow's philosophy as she describes his four houses in the area, which span a twenty-five-year period. They reveal the architect's ongoing experimentation with form, light, and materials, although the end results are recognizably Wrightian.

Chapter 3 features two Lansing-area houses by solar-heating pioneers George and Fred Keck. The Chicago-based architects were most known for their pair of structures at that city's Century of Progress World's Fair (1933–1934): the House of Tomorrow and the Crystal House. These popular display homes utilized innovative materials, systems, and construction techniques to chart a course in future domestic architecture for a Depression-weary audience. As the book shows, the Kecks applied these same principles to their practice, including the Panshin House (1947) in Okemos and the unbuilt Hayworth House (1947).

Chapter 4 examines fourteen local architects' self-designed houses (spanning the late 1940s through 1960s), turning the spotlight from nationally known figures to home-grown talent. Bandes obviously recognizes that architects oft en use their own homes...