Detroit is fortunate to have the largest collection of buildings anywhere in the world designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the greatest designers of the past century. The International style development, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on a 42-acre lot on the east fringes of the city’s downtown area. It includes three high-rise buildings and 21-multi-unit townhouses. The development, built over a three-year period starting in 1958, incorporates a large green space known as Lafayette Park. Two of the high-rise buildings are located on the east side of the 19-acre park that includes walking paths and an elementary school.
All of the residential buildings in the complex are constructed of aluminum and glass and feature floor to ceiling windows that create a sense of openness and spaciousness. The buildings are stark in appearance and feature exposed outer, steel skeleton frames that are part of the overall design. Although there are a few single story units, most of the townhouses are two stories and all of the cul-de-sac streets and parking lots in the development are set about four feet below grade. The lots and short streets are ringed with lush landscaping, rendering the cars almost invisible when looking out of the ground level units or from the surrounding sidewalks, much like a private park.
While riding through the area, not only am I constantly impressed with the simple architectural design of the townhouses, but the serenity. It’s a relaxing and peaceful setting. A direct contrast to the harsh city environment that is literally less than two blocks away. The extensive landscape scheme complements the sleekness of the structures making the development feel like a natural, country setting but with a subtle urban edge to it. Too me the complex is a masterpiece in urban design.
Although the three twenty-one-story apartment buildings in the development stand alone, they too take advantage of the surrounding green space. The apartment building known as the Pavilion sits close to the townhouses and like them, it is surrounded by a landscape design that enhances the building. The structure also has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out at the adjacent park or the city skyline. The two other apartment buildings, named Lafayette Towers, are further east and they are replicas of the Pavilion. They are separated from the Pavilion and the townhouses by Lafayette Park. The park’s 20-acre expansiveness compliments the overall scale of the three high-rise buildings, making them seem smaller than what they are.
No matter the time of the year, it’s always a peaceful, quite bike ride through the development. In the spring, the historic district is full of colorful, blooming ornamental trees and flowers that highlight the buildings and surrounding environment. In the summer, the thick leaved trees and bushes soften the starkness of the glass buildings. The fall season offer an array of vibrant natural leaf colors that reflect off the windows, before they drop, revealing the beauty of the timeless buildings.