"If there's a book that you want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it."
   Toni Morrison

Authors Blog

Diag Sensibilities

By | Norm's Author Blog

What should we do on a lovely autumn evening after dinner? This question often leads us to interesting encounters at the Diag. Students are always out recruiting participation in various causes with tables and chalk and amplified speakers. Although we see ourselves as outsiders, we feel welcome. Choosing a seat on an empty stone bench, we watch the stories unfold in front of us like movies on a very wide screen. Two anecdotes are worth sharing.

One evening we encountered a peaceful protest, and we happened to sit between two students who were similarly intrigued. On my right was a young man from China, and on Norm’s left was a young man from Pakistan. They sought a relaxed conversation, in English, with Americans who were not part of the University. Although we engaged in separate conversations, neither of us talked about politics or academics. We encouraged them to grab every opportunity during their time in Ann Arbor. Eventually, we left the Diag and walked home, feeling good about our casual conversations.

On another evening, we walked over to the Diag to see who and what were on display. We stopped at a table promoting the Michigan and State theaters, curious about why they were there. The volunteers hoped to engage with students and encourage attendance at our beloved historic theaters. They even offered free popcorn. What caught my eye, though, was their t-shirts. I loved the new design with both theaters rendered architecturally and advertising features “coming soon” to both theaters. I took their picture, and asked how I could get one of these t-shirts. It would take a special request, but they said I could pick one up at the member service counter inside the Michigan Theater. Later I posted this photo on Facebook.

The story continues. I posted the Diag photo on Facebook to share the encounter. I am “friends” with Zach Evans, son of David Evans, my former partner and founder of Quinn Evans Architects, who was instrumental in restoring the Michigan Theater almost 40 years ago. Zach had grown up in Ann Arbor and he knew this theater intimately. He graduated from the UM Film Department and has pursued a film career in Los Angeles. Zach never lost contact with the theater, and unbeknownst to me, he had accumulated a vast collection of Michigan Theater memorabilia. My photo on Facebook resulted in an inquiry about this newest item that he coveted for his collection. Tout suite, the Michigan Theater staff popped one in the mail to Zach.

When I wear my t-shirt, I savor my memories about the Michigan and State theaters. I associate it with yet another serendipitous experience on the Diag, and hope for many more such experiences in the future.

Cemetery Jar

By | Norm's Author Blog

Today we present an unsolved mystery.

   We go on many walks around our neighborhood—to campus, to the river, to downtown. But occasionally we walk to Forest Hills Cemetery, a beautiful landscape that gives us a peaceful nearby destination. When we are finally laid to rest there someday, we will be amongst old Tyler gravesites at four locations.

   On a recent meander through the pathways of Forest Hills, we passed by the largest Tyler gravesite and found a small glass jar partially buried in the ground. We were curious about it but decided to leave it there. However, in a few days our curiosity got the best of us, and we returned to find the bottle still protruding from the ground. The top was tight, so took it home and carefully opened it. Inside we found the following—a dollar bill torn into four parts, strings holding together faded and torn copies of contemporary faces, and some beans that were likely serving as a desiccant. The photo below illustrates what we found.

   But the mystery remains regarding why it was buried at the Tyler gravesite. Was it meant to be a remembrance? Was it meant as a hex, a charm, some geo-tagging, or just some kids fooling around? We would really like to hear any thoughts on what was behind this surprise discovery.

   We created a YouTube movie showing the opening of the jar. You can find it online at:



Preservation Podcast

By | Norm's Author Blog

   We invite you to learn more about historic preservation through a podcast discussion we had recently about our two careers as preservation architects, historians, and authors. Urban planner Stephanie Rouse and professional preservationist Melissa Gengler, both from Lincoln, Nebraska, invited us to discuss how we created the content for our book, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice. The questions were varied and comprehensive and they were interested in how the content had changed over twenty-five years through four editions. We noted first that preservation seen only as preserving old buildings is very limited in scope; it’s much more than that, much broader than that. They asked us to describe some of the most memorable and exciting experiences we have had in preservation.

   We invite you to take a break in your day or weekend and enjoy our banter during this 51-minute podcast. It describes well our lives and careers as a couple of ardent preservationists. The host’s closing teaser: “As our final takeaway, Norm talked about ‘temenos.’ Listen to figure out what temenos has to do with historic preservation.”


Glasgow Conference

By | Norm's Author Blog

Next week world leaders meet in Glasgow to confer once again about the climate change crisis. As architects, we recognize that proper management of the built environment is critical for any final strategies. In our book, Historic Preservation, this perspective is represented:

“The effort known as the ‘green building movement’ remains blind to its most troubling truth: We cannot build our way to sustainability. Even if, with the wave of a green wand, every building constructed from this day hence had a vegetative roof, was powered only with renewable energy sources, and was built entirely of environmentally appropriate materials, sustainability would still be far from fully realized. Seeking salvation by building new green buildings fails to account for the overwhelming vastness of the existing building stock. The accumulated building stock is the elephant in the room. Ignoring it, we risk being trampled by it. We cannot build our way to sustainability; we must conserve our way to it.”

Our colleague, architect Carl Elefante, popularized this approach through the phrase, “The greenest building is the one already built.”

Audacious Women

By | Norm's Author Blog

For the past year I have been writing the manuscript for an intriguing new book. I hope to soon find a publisher or agent interested in it.

Audacious Women: The Compelling Stories of Six Travel Trailblazers, tells the stories of six incredibly bold women who traveled the world on their own and shook up the status quo against all odds. From the late 19th to the mid-10th centuries, each had a unique story that enriches our narrative as a nation on the move. Coming from differing circumstances, they shared an adventurous spirit that broke the confines of what was then considered a “man’s world.” Their personalities were intriguing and complicated; certain words provide apt descriptions–fervent, impassioned, formidable. Their motivations, described by one writer, were “scared to death of being unconventional but seething underneath.”

Written largely in their own words, the narrative explores what emboldened them for the lifestyle they chose, the challenges they took on, and the discrimination they faced. Their stories also illustrate how this new-found ability to travel on their own paralleled the evolution of the women’s movement during this period. 

The six chapters are bookended with two distinctive individuals–Nellie Bly, who in 1889 traveled around the globe in 72 days taking only one dress and one coat, and Sally Ride, who gave up a career as a tennis professional to circumnavigate the globe in only ninety minutes. Other stories include Annie (Londonderry) Kopchovsky, a housewife who in 1894 decided to trek around the world by bicycle, ostensibly to capture a $10,000 prize but more significantly to gain celebrity. Next is Alice Ramsey, an early race-car driver who in 1909 decided to be driver and mechanic on a hazardous coast-to-coast trek from New York to San Francisco in a Maxwell automobile. As the age of flight began, Harriet Quimby was the first female licensed pilot and became an international celebrity for her achievements, earning an unbelievable $100,000 to fly in the Boston Air Show in 1912. In the 1920s, Amelia Earhart impassioned the day she saw her first aircraft in flight and flew throughout the world until the day of her tragic disappearance.

The book gives a unique perspective in that each of the six women is paired with an individual whose story provides a striking contrast. This counterpoint brings attention to relevant issues–the changing role of women during this pivotal period, travel as a means for women to become more independent, the fleeting nature of celebrity, and the sometimes tragic endings when trying to push the envelope too far. 

How did I become interested in writing about this topic? For twenty years I taught a university course in Transportation History and Planning. During this time I authored a book, Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental Travel, that included biographies of individuals significant in the historical development of transcontinental transportation, from George Washington to William Boeing. After reviewing the manuscript Ilene candidly asked, “Why are there no women in your book?” Her comment was eye-opening and spurred me to look more deeply at my historical resources. This resulted in the marvelous stories of the six “audacious women” described in the following chapters. During their intriguing and colorful lives, they each took on great challenges and overcame incredible obstacles; it became obvious they deserved a book of their own.

Subscribe to Blog

Subscribe to Blog to receive email notification of new postings.