I purchased and read this book for a number of reasons-It's published by Metropolis, it discusses a lesser known Mies project,as a newer resident of the Detroit area I believed I should start orienting myself with local architectural facts.
However, upon my conclusion of reading this book I feel as though it provided me with so much more then I expected, and at first it caught me a tinge off guard with it's approach to the subject matter. As one who reads a lot of architectural books, I have grown accustomed to a general formula when reading a book about a favorable piece in a desirable light. In general books of this nature begin by setting the stage for the architect, this is achieved by introducing the primary problem (social conditions, an artist's struggle to execute new ideas, limited access to materials,complexities of a building program, etc...). Then a narrative is provided on how the architect ingenuously responds to these problems, and the book concludes with commentary and documentation of what was built. Thanks For the View Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park Detroit is refreshingly nothing like that.
While it does a fine role of capturing the historic elements of what caused Lafayette Park to be constructed, and Mies's involvement with the project. The book successfully captures the current milieu of life at Lafayette Park. I found the book intriguing with it's broad view of material covered such as cataloging the various approaches to interior decor with resident interviews (how does one adopt to the Mies minimalism?), plant/animal specie inventories, social activities, and even a log of one resident's battle with heating control's over a nine day period. These are just a few examples of what make this book an enjoyable read.
In addition to appreciating the book's ability to successfully capture and display the very human side of Lafayette Park, it also demonstrates when architecture is created it is not just creating a built object, but an entire ecology of human behaviors and actions. The book is nearly three hundred pages long, of which the architecture is directly discussed very little. This just goes to prove that architecture, when done with tact and skill, is only the beginning of something much greater then the physicality of building design.
While reading the book I also became interested in how singleness of purpose can be the precursor to successful design; viewing Lafayette Park as an example of this phenomenon. I refer to Lafayette Park as being successful because most of the people interviewed seemed to enjoy their living quarters and neighborhood; despite the fact everything was constructed in the 50s and early 60s. When Lafayette Park was designed there were three primary designer's Mies as the architect, Ludwig Hilberseimer as the urban planner, and Alfred Caldwell as the landscape architect.
Despite all three men having ties to IIT, and the two being hired by Mies for the Lafayette project, each man seemed to be rather clear about what he was contributing to the project. From appearances, Mies seemed to focus on the design of the buildings, Hilberseimer focused on positioning and development, and Caldwell provided the direction for all things vegetative. Each person then was very focused on a specific aspect of the project, and that aspect seemed to correspond to their specialties. This working mindset of thinking and acting in terms of compartments is in sharp contrast to current day.
In current day, architects are encouraged to work diversely in all areas of design (creating a disincentive for specializing in building, urban planning, or landscapes), while also managing a project as a singular comprehensive unified design. After reading Thanks For the View Mr Mies, I become fearful that the designs we are creating are becoming diluted by an egotistic mentality that broadly skilled architects need to be involved in all aspects of the design project, that are also chasing limited objectives.
By reading Thanks For the View Mr Mies, it becomes clear that there have been unplanned results in Lafayette Park that continue to this day, but are the result of individuals simply focusing on doing their area of work in an exceptional manner. Examples may include the social diversity that exists within Lafayette Park; apparently the neighborhood is a mix of both middle/low class and the higher class. The towers are not exuberantly expensive to live in, and the location is positioned in convenience to downtown and a college university. I wonder if the social class mixing is not what happens when one person is solely focused on producing good urban planning coupled with an architect who solely focused on good creating desirable architecture? Or how Lafayette Park is one of the few areas of Detroit that actually supports ecological life with landscaping decisions made decades ago? And is once again attributed to Mies, the building architect, simply stepping out of the way and letting the landscape architect do their job without interference.
Thanks for the View Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park Detroit is certainly worth the read. Not only does one gain an insider's view what it may be like to live at Lafayette Park. But from an architectural point of view point it provides incentive for creating meaningful spaces, while unintentionally making an argument for specialized practice within the design world of built environments. I also assume a lot of the historical drawings, data, and images could be hard to obtain independently. For that reason I could see this book serving as a good resource for citing Lafayette Park history.