When my late husband Charles and I first met face to face in 1996 he told me he had seen me somewhere before. . . “across a crowded room.” Charles declared he painted portraits and “never forgot a face.” He definitely remembered seeing mine. Somewhere. I hoped that was a good thing!
I oddly felt the same way about Charles’ face and started thinking long and hard about where we could have met. What were the possibilities? What locations did we have in common? Where could our paths have crossed? We both lived in the city of Southfield, Michigan at one time. Maybe we saw each other at the public library or a bakery. At a hardware store or movie. Or was it our doppelganger or clone we saw? I was determined to solve the mystery.
Eventually, it occurred to me our encounter could have been work-related. I started to think about locations a civil engineer and a public library director would have in common. Somewhere connected with building construction or architecture. And then it hit me!
In 1978, the taxpayers of Hartland, Michigan, where I was a library director passed a bond issue for the construction of an addition to our historic Federalist style building opened in 1927 and designed by acclaimed architect Emil Lorch.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Lorch attended the Detroit School of Art and studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1890-1892. He taught architecture at the University of Chicago and adapted the concept of Pure Design developed by Denham W. Ross of Harvard University. Lorch’s version of Pure Design taught students to be inventive with shape, space and color rather than rely on traditional styles and architectural solutions. He was also credited with inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright in his design of Unity Temple in Chicago.
Lorch was the first director of the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan from 1906. In 1923 he offered a visiting professorship to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, the second place prize winner of the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. Saarinen accepted Lorch’s offer and remained at Michigan until 1925 when George Booth invited him to develop a new art school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Then Lorch was named the first dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Michigan in 1931.
In preparation for our library building project, it was important to me to learn as much as I could about building and interior design. I felt it was important to respect the work of Lorch, the notable Michigan architect and designer of Cromaine Library.
I read a lot about “state of the art” libraries and researched workshops and conferences to attend. At that time there were virtually no local workshops on these topics focusing on library buildings exclusively. Luckily, I found out about “Design Michigan: Your Community,” a conference to be held at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1979. The target audience was community managers, planners, business representatives, people in charge of public buildings etc. I fit in.
Preconference endorsements stated, “Good design is an intelligent use of our resources. It uses what we have done in the past, with an eye toward the future. Good design can be efficient, saving money and supplies. It can respond to the times and the changes in our society. It can be functional, fitting in with the environment yet at the same time serving people’s needs. And while it can be practical, it can also be aesthetically pleasing.”
It sounded perfect for me and I loved the tie-in with Emil Lorch’s connection to Cranbrook, with its beautifully designed historic buildings and grounds.
And it WAS perfect. Charles had been doing work at Cranbrook. Nearly twenty years later we figured it out! That’s where I first saw Charles and where he first saw me “across a crowded room.”
Note: Above are photographs of Charles and me from close to the time period of our first encounter. It’s the best I could do.