Recap of SAH 65th Annual Conference in Detroit

From April 18 through 22, more than 650 SAH members participated in the Society’s 65th Annual Conference in Detroit, the second largest conference attendance since SAH celebrated its 50th anniversary in Boston in 1990.
Jun 29, 2012 by User Not Found

A brief recap of the week’s activities follows. General Chair Abby Van Slyck provided the rationale for meeting in Detroit when she wrote, “Forget what you think you know about Detroit…Challenges abound, to be sure, but the Detroit community has embraced those challenges as opportunities to rethink how cities will look and how they will function in the future.” For historians of the built environment, Detroit is an active laboratory of ideas for reimagining and rightsizing a great historic city to embrace the opportunities of the 21st century.

Wednesday, April 18 

On the first day of the meeting, SAH sponsored the Historic Preservation Seminar and the Introductory Address. Facilitated by Brian D. Conway, State Historic Preservation Officer, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (SHPO/MSHDA), the preservation seminar titled “Retooling the Motor City,” brought together local preservation experts who discussed the historic areas of Detroit that are experiencing a rebirth as the city remakes itself in the twenty-first century.

On Wednesday evening SAH hosted a reception and book signing for the release of Kathryn Eckert’s revised edition of Buildings of Michigan in the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel. Following the reception and the Annual Business Meeting (see Secretary’s and Treasurer’s reports), SAH President Dianne Harris gave an update on the sound state of SAH. Harris also launched the beta version of SAH Archipedia, the Society’s latest online publication which brings together all the content from a dozen Buildings of the United States volumes into a searchable, illustrated, mapped online database. To view the beta version of SAH Archipedia, which currently includes 500 building histories, go to The fully featured version of SAH Archipedia will launch on October 1, 2012, with additional content added quarterly. Following the launch, the insightful Introductory Talk was “The Industrial Character of Detroit,” by Charles Hyde, Professor Emeritus of Industrial History at Wayne State University.

Thursday, April 19 

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, nearly150 scholarly papers were delivered in 35 sessions, the highest number to date. The paper sessions covered a wide range of periods and interests and were chaired and delivered by scholars and advanced graduate students from 28 countries. The diversity of approaches and methodologies to presenting the history of the built environment is but one indication of the vitality of the fields of architectural history, landscape history and urbanism. Thursday morning SAH President Dianne Harris hosted a President’s Breakfast to thank both local sponsors of the conference and those who have been of service to the Society through long-standing support.  During the midday sessions, we offered a wide variety of discussions and presentations that included an in-depth look at SAH Archipedia, meetings for EAHN, CASVA, DOCOMOMO US, and SAH Chapters, as well as a Graduate Student Roundtable. The Detroit Conference also featured a local outreach program that partnered SAH members attending the conference with young filmmakers working with YouthVille Detroit on short videos about Detroit’s historic buildings.

On Thursday evening SAH hosted the annual Awards Reception at McGregor Center on the campus of Wayne State University and the Award Ceremony and Plenary Talk at the nearby Detroit Public Library.

The evening was the occasion when the SAH President announced more than thirty annual meeting, travel and research fellowships, five book awards and new 25 and 50 year members. In addition, this year the Society announced three new Fellows of the Society who have distinguished themselves by a lifetime of significant contributions to the field. These contributions may include scholarship, service to SAH, or stewardship of the built environment.  The distinguished Fellows for 2012 are Kathryn Eckert, former Michigan State Historic Preservation Officer, Dr. Eileen Michels, Professor Emerita from St. Thomas University, and Gwendolyn Wright, Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Columbia University.

Following the announcement of SAH Fellows, Don Mitchell, a leading scholar in the field of cultural geography, from Syracuse University gave the Plenary Talk. His issue-oriented talk, “La Casa de Esclavos Modernos: Exposing the Architecture of Exploitation,” touched on the relationship between the study of the built environment and an understanding of the contemporary political economy.

Friday, April 20

In addition to papers delivered on Friday and mid-day tours, the noon hour featured a special locally-focused roundtable, “Reimagining Detroit,” organized by Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher. In the evening, conference participants were invited to select a wide range of activities to share with friends including an SAH Pub Crawl, the University of Michigan reunion, a lecture on the Michigan Modern program at Wayne State University, half-price tickets to performances at the Detroit Opera House, a film and discussion at the Detroit Institute of Arts sponsored by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, and the Architecture and Design Film Festival.

Saturday, April 21 

After the last papers were delivered on Saturday morning, conference participants had the choice of taking numerous study tours in and around the City of Detroit and Cranbrook to explore the variety and vitality of architecture in the city and region. On Saturday evening SAH organized a fundraising benefit in the Penthouse of the Art Deco Guardian Building. At the benefit, SAH honored three organizations that use architecture as a way to engage and educate young people in Detroit, namely YouthVille Detroit, Michigan Architectural Foundation, and Apex Organization. Behind-the-scene tours were provided by Christopher Roddy, the storied concierge for the Guardian Building.

Sunday, April 22

On Sunday SAH meeting attendees participated in half-day and full-day tours that underscored some of the themes discussed during the week including the strength of Michigan Modernism, Detroit’s outstanding landscapes and urban planning innovations, and the architectural variety of its nearby neighbor, Ann Arbor.

On behalf of the Society’s Board and membership, I extend our gratitude to all who worked for nearly two years to bring this meeting to fruition, including speakers, session chairs, participants in symposia and roundtables, tour leaders, volunteers, meeting partners, and meeting sponsors. Special acknowledgement goes to Abigail A. Van Slyck of Connecticut College who acted as General Chair for the meeting and the Local Committee: Dale Allen Gyure and Kathryn Eckert, Co-Chairs; Janet Kreger, Sponsorship Coordinator; Brian D. Conway, Historic Preservation Seminar Organizer; Kristine Kidorf, Volunteer Coordinator; and Dale Gyure and Karen Nagher, Tour Coordinators. In addition, I thank the SAH staff members who managed the meeting so well, namely Kathryn Sturm, who oversaw every aspect of the meeting; Beth Eifrig, who managed the book awards, fellowship awards, and pre-conference registration; Anne Bird and Jane Reilly who managed on-site registration; Kara Elliott-Ortega and Alexandra Markiewicz who handled communications and onsite video taping; and Robert Drum who handled all of the financial record keeping for the meeting and the Society in general.

We are equally appreciative of those individuals and companies who provided support for the meeting. We are greatly indebted to all who supported the Detroit Conference, intellectually, financially, enthusiastically.

Pauline Saliga
SAH Executive Director

View SAH's photos from the conference on the SAH Facebook Page