Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America

Michigan Modern celebrates the state’s outstanding contributions to Modern design, and highlights the people who made them happen.

After its debut at the Cranbrook Art Museum last summer, GRAM is excited to bring this significant exhibition to West Michigan, devoting extra galleries for the exhibition which spans two floors. The exhibition underscores the highly influential international role that our state has played in mid-century design innovation.

Michigan Modern brings together hundreds of landmark design objects, fascinating photographs, design drawings, and video documentation of the leading figures and key historical developments in architecture, industrial design, and furniture. An additional special feature of the Grand Rapids presentation is a focus on design for outdoor recreation, including boat design, playgrounds, and experimental tents and camping gear.


Michigan Modern is a comprehensive study of Michigan’s role as a catalyst for advances in modern design from the turn of the century to the 1970s, featuring 50 key designers and architects from 20 innovative, Michigan based businesses and institutions.


GRAM’s exhibition focuses the spotlight on our region’s deep roots in the areas of architecture and design, as well as the people who made it happen. Michigan visionaries touched nearly every aspect of American life. Detroit’s automobile manufacturers didn’t just produce cars; they styled automobiles to become synonymous with the American dream. Michigan’s furniture makers revolutionized the look of the American office and home. Architects Albert Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Gunnar Birkerts, and Minoru Yamasaki defined an architectural era with important buildings in Michigan. Industry, prosperity, and educational institutions created a synergy that attracted the design talent that formed the foundation for modern American design.

Organized into ten thematic sections, the exhibition explores the modernization of industry, the teaching of architecture and design, various aspects of the military, institutions such as churches, schools, libraries, and the city square, and the modernization of public housing, organic design in home furnishings, living space,work space, mobility, and recreation.

Come see this amazing exhibition for yourself and enjoy the experience that is Michigan Modern, on view May 18 through August 24, 2014.

This exhibition was organized by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in association with Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by MPdL Studio of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The exhibition has been expanded by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with an exhibition design by Seth Alec Keller.



• A rare cutaway version of a full-scale Model T that illuminates the mass production process

• Detailed architectural models and plans of key Michigan buildings, including factories, churches, schools, libraries, and private homes

• A full-scale simulation of a living room in Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park Apartments, with furnishings that
guests can enjoy

• Vintage mid-century modern home furnishings by Cranbrook designers Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, whose curved plywood chairs won awards in a 1940 Museum of Modern Art competition

• Unique models and pre-production prototypes of now-famous furniture for homes and offices, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs for Steelcase at the Johnson Wax Headquarters

• Innovations in office design, including modular office furniture, standing desks, and the dramatic GM Technical Center by architect Eero Saarinen

• Designs for outdoor recreation, including Bill Moss tents, fiberglass boats, and playground furniture

Celebrate with GRAM as we highlight Michigan design: yesterday, today, and tomorrow! Capture and share your personal experience with design; Michigan made products, architecture, furniture, textiles, and more! Help GRAM awaken design-focused curiosity and pride in the great state of Michigan and turn our instagram into a catalyst for conversation and celebration of everything Michigan made!

Click here to find out more

Exhibition Related Events

AIGA Design Briefs

Presenting Sponsor:

Contributing Sponsors:
Gregory and Rajene Betz

Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik
Progressive AE

Robert Daverman Architecture & Planning LLC
J. Visser Design
Miller Johnson
Triangle Associates, Inc.
Bill and Kate Scarbrough


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: 1. Charles Eames, American, 1907–1978 (Designer). Ray Eames, American, 1912–1988 (Designer). Herman Miller, Inc., American (Manufacturer). Detail, LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) Manufactured 1949–1957. Molded walnut plywood with rubber mounts. 26 1/2 x 22 x 24 1/2 in. (67.3 x 55.9 x 62.2 cm). Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Gift of Herman Miller, Inc., The Herman Miller Collection. © Herman Miller, Inc. Photography by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer. 2. Detail, Play sculptures at sunset, designed by Jim Miller-Melberg. Photograph by Bob Vigiletti. Photograph Courtesy of Jim Miller-Melberg 3. Detail, Wagemaker catalog, 1956 4. Detail, Steelcase, Inc., Manufacturer. Steelcase Advertisement, Comprehensive Coordination!, 1965. Courtesy of Steelcase, Inc. 5. Detail, St. Francis de Sales Church, Exterior, Muskegon, MI. Marcel Breuer, Architect (1902–1981). Balthazar Korab, Photographer (1926–2013). Photograph courtesy of The Library of Congress 6. Detail, 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Custom Catalina Coupe in front of The Research Laboratories Administration Building, September 1, 1955. Eero Saarinen, Architect (1910–1961). Courtesy of General Motors