Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and Horizons-Upward Bound Present Field Trips for Detroit-area Students

Oct 3, 2022 by Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
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The collaboration between Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research (the Center) and Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) funded through the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) American Architecture and Landscape Field Trip grant, provided opportunities for all HUB students to learn about the field of architecture through field trips to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Smith House. One hundred thirty-eight underserved, first-generation college-bound, and low-income Detroit area high school students participated in the six- week Summer 2022 HUB Residential Program and had an opportunity to experience Frank Lloyd Wright’s last wooden Usonian home. This learning opportunity was further developed through a morning lecture presented to all HUB students that addressed the impact of racism and redlining at Smith House and throughout the greater Detroit area. Furthermore, the collaboration also allowed nine HUB students to select Architecture as an elective course and engage more deeply with the Center through twice-weekly classes.

A total of 138 HUB Summer Residential Program students ranging from rising 9th through 12th grade were exposed to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright through curator-led tour field trips of the Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith House. Visiting the home in small groups, students were offered the opportunity to experience Wright’s architecture firsthand and to discuss the impact of his legacy on housing in twentieth-century America. Students also engaged with the story of Melvyn and Sara Smith, two Detroit public school teachers who overcame financial hardship and antisemitic discrimination to build their dream home.

When Cranbrook took ownership of Smith House, it acquired more than a completely intact 1950 Usonian house and its surrounding landscape—Cranbrook became signatory to a problematic deed. At the very top of the list of restrictive covenants (on record since 1930), there is a note that the property in this subdivision may not be owned or rented by anyone that is not of the “pure, unmixed white, Caucasian, Gentile race.” While illegal and unenforceable, the Smith House Warranty Deed stands as a reminder of the enduring legacy of racism and housing segregation in America. As a compliment to the tours, these themes were discussed in a two-hour lecture program entitled "Racism, Redlining, and Housing Discrimination," which was attended by all 138 HUB students, as well as HUB faculty and summer residential advisors. The program was opened by Nina Blomfield, The Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow for the Center, who gave an overview of historic issues surrounding housing discrimination before exploring Frank Lloyd Wright’s response to “the small house problem,” the individual impact of redlining on Jewish families like the Smiths, and the work the Center is doing with the Smith House’s Home Owners Association to legally strike restrictive language from the Warranty Deeds of Smith House and neighboring properties. The keynote presentation was delivered by guest speaker Jamon Jordan, the City of Detroit’s first official historian and the founder of Black Scroll Network History and Tours. Jordan presented a detailed history of redlining and racial segregation in the greater Detroit area, focusing on discriminatory federal housing policies and urban renewal processes, as well as constant efforts by the Black community throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to challenge racist laws relating to housing. The lecture program contextualized the Smith House field trips, offering students insight into the interrelationship of architecture and racism for an individual household and at a regional level.

In addition to the Center/HUB collaboration program offered to all summer residential students, nine self-selected students joined the Architecture elective course offered by the Center. The elective was conducted during HUB class time, with eight sessions held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30 am to 10:00 am. Class sessions were taught by Center Curator Kevin Adkisson, the Center’s Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow, Nina Blomfield, and Center Collections Interpreter Matt Horn. The stated goal for the elective was to help students learn about the history of architecture through the resources of the Cranbrook campus with tours and field trips that focused not only on the history and function of Cranbrook’s buildings but on the structure, materials, and architectural detailing that combine to create a campus considered one of America’s great total works of art. In doing so, Center staff developed a curriculum designed to give students tools for seeing and investigating the built environment as well as understanding the tools and processes of the architecture profession. The curriculum included field trips to all three historic houses stewarded by Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research—the Albert Kahn-designed Cranbrook House, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed-Smith House, and the Eliel Saarinen-designed Saarinen House—Cranbrook Archives, a walking tour focused on urban and campus planning, a hands-on activity session conducted in the Cranbrook Academy of Art Department of Architecture studios, and an all-day field trip to visit architectural firms in downtown Detroit. During the all-day field trip, the group was hosted by Ishtiaq Jabir Rafiuddin, Principal, UNDECORATED Design Studio, and Rodrigo Manquez, Principal, Cultural Studio Leader, SmithGroup. The Architecture elective culminated in a visit to Smith House following the HUB Theme Day celebrations, where students enrolled in the elective shared their knowledge by presenting their own tours to their family members.