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Japan Tour

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University of Michigan Alumni Tour of Japan

In October, Ilene and Norm joined with 22 other University of Michigan alums and friends on a 12-day tour of the highlights of Japan. One highlight of a tour filled with many highlights was viewing the Golden Temple, with exterior walls covered with gold leaf. The tour group traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto, seeing incredible temples, shrines, and gardens. However, Ilene felt the best part of the trip was the food, and now that we are home we are now adding Japanese cooking to our everyday menu.

American Planning Association Presentation

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American Planning Association Presentation

Norm was a member of a group of the College of Fellows presenting at the annual APA Conference in New York City. The topic was “The Role of the 21st Century Planner.” A packed room listened to discussion of how city planners could better adopt new ideas and technologies into practice. Other speakers were moderator Andrea Brown (APA Michigan Executive Director), Mitchell Silver (former APA president), Bruce Race (University of Houston), and Janet Ruggiero (California planner).

Included in the audience was Ilene with her Jane Jacobs doll. (Ask her about it.)

Chaloner Building tour and consultation

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A visit to the Chaloner Building in Adrian, Michigan gave Norm and I a chance to engage professionally with Mayor Jim Berryman, local historian ScottWestfall, and other local development team members about the potential and opportunities for rehabilitation of this building. Adrian’s streetscape is incredibly intact and holds great architectural interest for its diversity of styles. Flanking buildings from the same time period add to the challenges of isolating an initial project with room to grow.

Tour of the Chaloner Building

University of Michigan Power Plant Tour

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One of many buildings opened for tours this week, I chose this one, because I’m always up for a behind-the-scenes tour of raw power. We wore earplugs and safety glasses, and were told not to take photos. In a small group of seven, we were guided through the plant observing the noisy turbines and firing chambers and the eerily quiet command center. Three people monitor all of the controls for the entire system around the clock, and react quickly to power surges and outages. In the next couple of years, major upgrades are planned to simplify this process and allow a smoother response to interruptions of power.

The University is finding many ways to celebrate its Bicentennial and it seems only natural to enjoy as many of these as I can. While I’ve been fortunate to have explored many campus buildings in the course of my career, the Power Plant is one I’d never been inside, even though I’ve walked by many times. Asking if the central-campus location has proved to be an asset or a liability, our guide explained that the site was chosen in 1914 for its low elevation – steam rises, and condensate falls back to the plant. This is still true, of course, so the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Library Lot Proposal

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For many years the city of Ann Arbor has been discussing proposals for a new development on a key site in the downtown next to the city’s library. The current proposal is for a massive mixed-use structure with a plaza in front. Ilene and I wrote a letter to City Council expressing our concerns with the current design. We have attached the letter here as a pdf.

University of Michigan Board of Governors Meeting

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It has been a full agenda, beginning with a visit to Detroit for lunch at Hopcat, a curator-led tour of The Architectural Imagination exhibit at MOCAD, and an introduction to the ArcPrep program for high school students. After a respite back in Ann Arbor, several of us were honored to judge student projects on display at the architecture school. Now it’s time for our full day at the school…details to be shared later.

New transportation history book

By | News, Norm's Author Blog | No Comments

Norm wants to share his excitement about his new book. For years he has had had a special interest in the history of transportation, both because he likes the study of history in general and because for many years he taught a Transportation Planning course at Eastern Michigan University. The new book currently has a working title of Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental TravelThis story is told through the perspectives of individuals significant in each era of transportation development. Some of the protaganists of this drama are familiar, but in unfamiliar roles—George Washington as a young surveyor trekking to new western territories. Some were entrepreneurs who were ruthless in their quest—Thomas Durant, as master schemer and scammer in charge of building the Union Pacific Railroad. Others were larger-than-life figures now largely forgotten—Carl G. Fisher, an eccentric businessman who instigated and prodded construction of the country’s first coast-to-coast highway as a way to sell more of his automobile headlamps. Other biographical sketches reveal inconceivable feats—Annie Kopchovsky, who in 1894 left her husband and two children for fifteen months to successfully ride a bicycle not only across the country, but around the world. The stories of these individuals and others are marvelous, intriguing, and sometimes unbelievable. A reflection on these individuals and their roles in “Crossing the Continent” provides the focus for this history of American daring and determination during the historical, and historic, evolution of systems of transportation.

Norm is now looking for an agent and a publisher. Stay tuned and you will be the first to know when the manuscript has become a published book.

nortoncoversmallWe are also excited to have been asked by the publisher of our book, Historic Preservation, to update it for a 3rd edition. Written by Norm and Ilene and Ted Ligibel, it remains one of the bestselling books on the topic. For this edition, Ilene has agreed to lead the editorial effort.

Should It Stay or Should It Go

By | Ann Arbor | No Comments

Historic properties are recognized for their place in a community and for their importance to a period in time, in addition to other details, like the architecture and/or persons associated with the property. Where the resource was originally constructed is inexorably linked to to its historic integrity, such that moving the resource to another location raises questions about loss of this integrity. If the foundation is new, does this change perceptions about the resource? Were the old foundation materials significant, or perhaps was the basement or crawl space significant to the history and use of the resource?

Historic properties are recognized for their place in a community and for their importance to a period in time, in addition to other details, like the architecture and/or persons associated with the property. Where the resource was originally constructed is inexorably linked to to its historic integrity, such that moving the resource to another location raises questions about loss of this integrity. If the foundation is new, does this change perceptions about the resource? Were the old foundation materials significant, or perhaps was the basement or crawl space significant to the history and use of the resource?

In most cases, if the resource is threatened with demolition, then moving the structure may be the only option to save any of the memory and physical evidence of the original structure. So, consider the decision with this larger view in mind, but admit that moving the above-ground portion of a building to a new foundation forever changes the building’s larger history. Usually, the history associated with a property can still be told if the structure is still evident, even if relocated and the surrounding context is changed.

Documenting historic properties threatened with demolition captures historical and physical information in a logical and consistent manner for a permanent record of the structure at a particular point in time. Ideally, this would only be to temporarily “mothball” the structure until a productive use and funds can be found, but this can also be extrapolated to include documenting those buildings at risk for complete removal. Preservation Brief 31: Mothballing Historic Buildings, by Sharon C. Park, describes this process. I have clarified and simplified the process for use in our local community of Ann Arbor, Michigan so volunteer preservationists can complete the documentation and put the information in a community archive available to future researchers.

Arthur Miller House

439 S. Division Street

Our first project has been to investigate and document conditions at 439 S. Division Street, a property owned by the University of Michigan. In just under two hours, two of us performed a visual survey of the first floor, second floor, and attic, as well as a walk around the exterior. The basement was not available for visual survey. Sketches of the floor plans provide the general layout at each level, with photo locations indicated. All of the photos are listed in a log with a notation of photo locations and conditions observed.

Separately, an architectural description and statement of significance complement the hard data and provide a larger context for the historic resource. Ultimately, this documentation of the structure will have little impact on its fate. The task for the volunteer preservationists has been primarily to gather readily available information and to create a record of the structure. If discussion should open up about an alternative strategy to save the structure, even if saving it means moving it, then these documents provide a useful reference.

That gets back to the original question: should it stay or should it go? If staying is NOT an option, and if going means moving rather than demolition, should that be viewed as a good thing? I like to think so, as moving provides more options than losing the resource entirely. Although not reversible, everything else can be preserved. It is easier to tell stories about the house, the people who lived there, the details of its design, and any events that took place there, if physical evidence of the house remains. Explain what is lost but be proud of what remains.

Kerrytown Bookfest 2015

By | Ann Arbor, Events | No Comments

We came, we saw, and we survived. We even sold books! It was a different perspective to participate as authors, instead of perusing the sellers’ stalls and sitting in on author talks. While we were pleased with the response to our offerings, we missed the same engagement with others, and will likely return to being a patron/customer next year. The Kerrytown Bookfest is an excellent event that highlights local talent, and we were proud to be in the mix and to share our books. Many thanks to the Board and volunteers who make the event a success for the entire community.

Tyler table at Bookfest 2015

table 109 display before the opening bell