Steven Lauritano and Anca Trandafirescu

It’s About Time: Preservation’s New Priorities

Over the past half century historic preservation has become a stable profession. What was once a grass-roots impassioned investment in preserving the heritage held in our buildings has developed into a state-sanctioned practice with laws, trusts, and administrating bodies. This has produced a system of much-needed standards that have protected segments of the built environment which might have otherwise disappeared. Today, preservation efforts find widespread support across diverse constituents from community organizers, to developers, and city governments.  The professionalization of the field has necessarily led to a targeting of sites where its regulations and funding mechanisms can have the greatest impact.  But with its growing mastery, the creative possibilities of the profession have been deemphasized.1

Most architects today do not actively engage in preservation questions due to the perception that the field is solely retrospective. But this is changing.  Within the last decade groups of small architectural practices have repositioned preservation as an expansive and creative endeavor. Under the heading Experimental Preservation these designers have broadened the spectrum of conservation to now include temporary installations, digital technologies, innovative material techniques, and even performance.2 They have opened up opportunities for designing architects to participate creatively. Within the academy, these changes remain the interest of the small group of schools that have established preservation programs. What would happen if a school of architecture turned its interests to preservation practice? Might the creative capacities of a design school be harnessed to further open preservation to a new generation’s priorities?

It’s About Time: Preservation’s New Priorities is a hybrid course with a research seminar and design studio component. The studio seeks to leverage new preservation practices to extend the life of a significant regional building. The site of student experimentation will be the Burroughs Adding Machine Company building located in Plymouth, Michigan, designed by Albert Kahn in 1938 as a factory and headquarters. Studio methodology will include precedent research, site visit and documentation, material investigation and design proposal.

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Student Work

Abbie Probst “Burroughs Power Villa”

The “Burroughs Power Villa” is a preservation proposal for Albert Kahn’s powerhouse designed in 1938 for the Burroughs Corporation in Plymouth, MI. The building exhibits a skilled negotiation between machine and architecture resulting in a seemingly continuous symmetry throughout the design that reflects a similar attention to balance that is seen in the composition of Italian villas. A careful study in plan exposes a discrepancy between the symmetry of the steam power system in the interior and the exterior facade. This proposal aims to highlight Kahn’s ability to hide this misalignment by correcting it. 

Analysis of the structure that ties the building envelope and machine systems together reveals irregular structural bays as a central component to the gap between symmetries. An intervention on the East end of the building corrects this collapse in structural logic, and resultantly creates space to mirror unbalanced elements from the West side of the building across the interior line of symmetry. An implied extension of the facade over this new addition moves the exterior line of symmetry to align with that of the interior. 

The goal of the intervention is not to argue that there is a flaw with Albert Kahn’s design, but to initiate conversation about the “correctness” of this now perfect symmetry; elements in the intervention are impractical and perhaps Kahn’s approach exhibits the most successful mediation between functionalism and aesthetics.

Grant Parker “Copy the Decayed”

Copy the Decayed is a design approach to preserve the Powerhouse at the Burroughs Adding Machine Plant designed by Albert Kahn and Associates in 1938. The Burroughs’ powerhouse is part of an assemblage of powerhouses designed by Kahn during the industrial age. An analysis of Kahn’s powerhouse reveals a typological series of formal features that generate a clear relationship among function, content, and context. The core formal features of Kahn’s type are cladded smokestacks that pierce the horizon, stepped segments that respond to interior function, extended windows to maximize light, and a brick facade in response to campus aesthetics. By looking at these objects as a type, one can acknowledge the partial nuances and understand how elements are receptive to adaptation. In this way, Kahn’s typology acts as a frame in which variation can operate. Kahn’s powerhouse typology not only contributes to the architectural discourse but also plays an important role in the fabric of the American Industry. The proposal establishes the typology as an architectural artifact by copying four demolished powerhouses from his collection and superimposing them on the site of the Burroughs’ powerhouse. Hence copying the once decayed. To bring emphasis to the architectural design the existing machines will be removed from the site leaving a subtle index of their location. Each building is then recreated with transparent colored fabric and hung from a substructure on the exterior and the existing structure on the interior. Their orientation highlights distinct typological elements and establishes circulation throughout the artifacts.

Sarah Britain “Chance Preservation”

Sarah Britain “Chance Preservation”
Sarah Britain “Chance Preservation”

Chance Preservation explores Detroit’s complicated auto-industrial past through an unfiltered, aerial viewing of its politically sprawled, temporal, deindustrialized landscape. The vertical separation of the tour amplifies preservational acts while encouraging digestibility of the Rust Belt’s heavy and convoluted history.

The Burroughs Adding Machine Corporation in Plymouth, Michigan was designed by Albert Kahn in the mid 1900’s. Despite the technology company’s great success, Kahn’s thoughtfully designed powerhouse faces similar neglect today as many of his automobile manufacturing plants around Detroit. Its iconic smokestack which vertically read “BURROUGHS” has since been removed.
The smokestack overlooked the community as a figure of power and wealth. Its removal indicates historical shifts in power, economics, and policy at the end of the industrial period. Re-imagining the smokestack as a monumental aestheticization of neglected industrial components from the interior of Burroughs’ powerhouse rejuvenates, rearranges, and repurposes historical artefacts for present-day relevance and educational intervention. Interactive ascension creates a self-functioning tower containing restrooms, viewing decks, wind energy, and light.

The artefact-assembled smokestack, its evolving influence and historic presence over the landscape, and its relation to a larger network of global events are three scales of preservation the project explores. The monument preserves the symbolic, powerful view over the deindustrialized landscape.
Utilizing Albert Kahn buildings as prototypical hot air balloon tour take-off platforms centers some of the most historically industry-prominent, yet presently abandoned parts of the city. The tour investigates each building’s integral history and the community’s relationship to the unique, vehicle-oriented landscape.

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