Recover from the weekend with this Meathe, Kessler & Associates design.
One of Michigan’s most influential modernists, William Kessler spent a long, productive career creating technologically innovative and formally expressive modern buildings. After studying at Chicago’s Institute of Design and learning the ways of the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius at Harvard, Kessler moved to Michigan in the early 1950s following an offer from Minoru Yamasaki to work in his growing Detroit firm. Originally, Kessler only intended to stay in the state for a few years, but the young architect, impressed with the region's remarkable ability to fuel creativity and innovation, eventually established his own firm in Grosse Pointe and remained in Michigan for the rest of his career.
Best known for his attention to human scale and experimental technology, William Kessler helped shape Michigan's incredibly inventive architectural legacy during the second half of the twentieth century. Though Kessler is probably best known for his own residence in Grosse Pointe, his design for a concrete and glass student center at Olivet College demonstrates the architect's intuitive command of the Modernist vocabulary. Designed by his firm Meathe, Kessler and Associates, the Olivet College Collegiate Center (now the Lester K. Kirk Center) is located in the center of the Olivet campus, the only building on a large grassy block. Surrounded by green space and mature trees, the hovering structure somehow manages to look both classical and modern, its stark white formality and gleaming transparency speaking to the institutional buildings of the past and the present.
As one approaches the modern student center, a long walkway bisects the mature lawn, leading to a small set of steps at the building's main entrance. The structure's façade is reassuringly symmetrical, each elevation containing five identical bays with curtain walls of plate glass and aluminum framing. Breaking up the expanses of glass, slender concrete columns emerge from the ground, rising above the cantilevered slab before reaching the flat roof, where the delicate stems support the building’s load like a tree might carry its foliage. Interestingly, Kessler employed a rather ingenious construction method that utilized fiberglass formwork (developed in Detroit by the automotive industry) to create the massive concrete roof panels and flared columns.
In many ways not far removed from Minoru Yamasaki's work of the period, the Kessler-designed student center floats like a white classical institution, seemingly apart of and apart from the surrounding landscape. Like Yamaskai, Kessler created “human-scale” architecture focused on the rich layers of the individual experience. In its approachable scale, profound openness, and framed views of the campus, Kessler's collegiate center offers students a comfortable and energizing space, a modern hub for campus connectivity and camaraderie.
Dedicated on September 15, 1963, the Olivet College Collegiate Center continues to operate as originally intended, seamlessly blending function, experience, and technology into a modern space evocative of future opportunity. You can see some excellent contemporary photographs of the Olivet College Collegiate Center here.
Image at top:
William H. Kessler, Architect and Balthazar Korab, photographer. Kessler, Olivet. [Between 1963 and 2006] Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2017650182.
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