What sets the Wayne State University campus apart for the architecture enthusiast is that its main expansion occurred during the very early period of the Modernist movement. The origins of the institution lay with the Detroit Medical College founded in 1868, which later merged with independent colleges to become the Colleges of the City of Detroit before obtaining the university title in 1934 as Wayne University (eventually becoming a state institution in 1956).
Plans to expand the campus beyond the original College building at the intersection of Cass and Warren avenues were drafted as early as 1936, however World War II put any development plans on pause. At the end of the war, two buildings were rapidly constructed with State support to meet the needs of returning veterans. The architect of one of those buildings, Suren Pilafian, went on to draft the first campus master plan in 1946, before designing several new structures for the rapidly expanding university. Among them were a General Library, later renamed in honour of G. Flint Purdy, who was University Librarian at the time.
As work started on the General Library, a donation by the Sebastian S. Kresge Foundation for the construction of a science library came in. With the help of Frank Montana, Pilafian designed the Kresge Library concurrently with the General Library, both in a distinctive Bauhaus-inspired vocabulary of clean brick volumes. The two libraries opened within a few months of each other in 1953-1954, linked by a common hall. They later merged in 1986 to become the Purdy-Kresge Library, although each building still bears its original individual name.
Subsequent campus expansion projects saw the construction of the Law School Library in 1966 and the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs in 1975. Both were the creation of O’Dell, Hewlett & Luckenbach, architects of the ill-fated Ford Auditorium.
Among the other Modernist delights on the Wayne State University campus are several buildings by Minoru Yamasaki, including the McGregor Memorial Conference Center completed in 1958, the College of Education in 1960 and the Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium in 1964. Albert Kahn’s firm designed the Life Science building in 1959.
The images displayed here date from my quick jaunt through campus in April 2018.
- Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. (2021). 2020 Campus Master Plan. Detroit, Wayne State University.
- Alteri, S. (2009). From Laboratory to Library: The History of Wayne State University’s Education Library. Education Libraries, 32(1), pp. 12–16.
- Detroit Modern Wayne State University Tour. (n.d.). Michigan Modern.
- Hanawalt, L. L. (1968). A place of light; the history of Wayne State University. Detroit, Wayne State University Press, pp. 257-268.
- Hill, E. J. (2003). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects guide to Detroit architecture. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, pp. 144-147.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!