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gunnar birkerts

GUNNAR BIRKERTS, FAIA (1925-2017)


Birkerts was born and raised in Latvia and escaped ahead of the advancing Soviet army toward the end of WWII. He graduated from the Technische Hochschule, Stuttgart, Germany, in 1949. Influenced by Alvar Aalto, he immigrated to the US and worked initially for Perkins and Will in Chicago. He moved to the Detroit area in the early 1950s, where he worked for Eero Saarinen, and was chief designer for Minoru Yamasaki before opening his own office in Birmingham MI. Birkerts and Straub in 1963 became Gunnar Birkerts and Associates. Birkerts joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1959 and taught until 1990. In 1989 Birkerts was commissioned to design the new building for the National Library of Latvia in Riga, Latvia, aka Castle of Light, for which he drew from Latvian folklore about the Glass Mountain.

He was a Fellow of the Latvian Architect Association in 1971. He received a 1971 fellowship from the Graham Foundation, the Gold Medal of the Michigan Society of Architects in 1980, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, the 1993 Michigan Artist of the Year; an honorary doctorate from Riga Technical University in 1990; the Order of the Three Stars from the Republic of Latvia in 1995; the Great Medal of the Latvian Academy of Sciences in 2000. Birkerts was an honorary professor at The University of Illinois and was the Architect-In-Residence at the American Academy in Rome. He also was a member of the Latvian Union of Architects, honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the Riga Technical University. Birkerts married Sylvia and they had three children, Sven, Andra, and Erik Birkerts. Bio adapted from Wikipedia.


1957 - The Mequon House, Mequon WI. On Lake Michigan. All wood. A system of bridge-like trusses supports the house, but the bases on the floor of the ravine are small. Won a Design Citation Award from Progressive Architecture. Unbuilt.


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1958 - The Aluminum House, Virgin Islands. Unbuilt.


1960 - The Alan Schwartz Summer Residence, Northville MI. On a 400-acre apple orchard. Destroyed in 1986.


1961 - The Lafayette Park Apartments, 1300 East Lafayette Street, Detroit MI. At the time of construction the highest in Detroit. Became condos.


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1961 - The Towne Plaza Apartments, Cleveland OH. Unbuilt. Cleveland Apartment Competition.


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1961 - Apartment Project, Lansing MI. Unbuilt.


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1962 - The Kaufman House 1, Muskegon MI. Unbuilt.


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1962 - The Taubman House, Southfield MI. Commissioned 1960.


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1964 - The Elmwood Housing Project, Muskegon MI. Unbuilt.


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1964 - The Kaufman House 2, Muskegon MI. Built.


1964 - International Village, Detroit MI. A downtown complex of theaters, office buildings, apartments, restaurants, and shops. With firms Louis G. Redstone and Frederick Stickel Associates. Urban renewal project to replace Skid Row, unbuilt.


1965 - The Travis Residence, Franklin MI. Status unknown.


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1966 - The August (Augie) and Ruta Grasis II House, 9404 West 80th Terrace, Kansas City MO. Commissioned 1965. Birkert's best friend from Latvia. Still owned by the Grasises as of 2020.


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1966 - The Don and Harriet Freeman Residence, aka Atrium House, 2032 Lake Drive SE, East Grand Rapids MI. Commissioned 1965. B/W photos by Hedrick-Blessing; built by Jordan Shepard; HVAC, Hoyem Basso Adams. Featured in Architectural Record Houses of 1968; and Architectural Record, August 1966. Sold to Richard and Betsy DeVos, founders of Amway. Betsy DeVos was also the former US Secretary of Education in the Trump administration. Sold to their son, Rick Devos. Sold to Dean and Bona Van Dis. Sold in 2016 to Bert and Julie Bowden.


1967 - The Lewis Residence, Bloomfield Hills MI. Built. Commissioned 1965.


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1972 - The Tougaloo College Dormitories, aka Renner Hall and A. A. Branch Hall, Tougaloo MS. Commissioned 1966. Birkerts designed the campus master plan, only 2 dorms and the library were completed.


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1979 - Housing Competition, Amman, Jordan. Unbuilt.


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1979 - The Muiznieks House, Kalamazoo MI. Unbuilt.


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1983 - The Robert K. and Virginia (Ginny) Ferguson Residence, aka Villa Ginny, 1242 Edgemoor Avenue, Kalamazoo MI. Commissioned 1980. Featured in GA Houses 16; and Architectural Record, March 1983. Structural, Robert Darvas; Mechanical, Potapa Mancini. Still in the Ferguson family as of 2021.


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1984 - Another house, perhaps for the Lewises, in Bloomfield Hills was designed in 1983.


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1986 - Residence, San Francisco CA. Unbuilt.


1989 - The Agim and Sheriban Bardha Residence, 550 South Bates Street, Birmingham MI. Commissioned 1984. Still owned by the Bardhas as of 2020.


1990 - The Marge Monaghan House, Drummond Island MI. Commissioned 1989. Marjorie Monaghan was an owners of Domino's Pizza chain. Unbuilt.


1994 - The Augie Grasis III House, 2807 Aspen Court, Vail CO. Commissioned 1990. Sold to MTG, owner Tim Garton. Company dissolved in 2016 after Garton's death. Status unknown.


Sources include: Architectural Record.