Wayne State University College of Education Building

People: Minoru Yamasaki

Date: 1960

City: Detroit

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

Wayne State University’s College of Education building was Minoru Yamasaki’s second building on Wayne’s campus. It was built to house all components of the College of Education and showcased Yamasaki’s unique style of New Formalism. The building is sometimes described as a “wedding cake” due to its shape. Yamasaki himself pulled from his pocket a little wedding-cake bride and groom and placed the pair on top of the model he presented to the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

The building’s appearance was also associated with the Palace of the Doges, a reference to the Gothic palace on Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. This was due to the pre-cast concrete and glass building’s tall, narrow, pointed windows and the arcaded, covered walkway along the ground floor.

The cornerstone laying was actually a pillar raising due to the lack of traditional corners in the building’s construction. Instead, 120 forty-foot-high slabs of pre-cast concrete resembling trees, each faceted to provide a sculptured appearance, enhanced the design through the interplay of light and shadow similar to Yamasaki’s design for the McGregor Memorial Conference Center, which is opposite of the Education building. Additionally, these pre-cast concrete trees foreshadowed the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building Yamasaki designed a few years later.

In his design for the building, Yamasaki gave special consideration to the interior spaces, designed to provide a refuge within a campus that he envisioned as continuing to increase in density. The interior design proved problematic for many of the faculty. Given the classrooms’ placement in the center of the building, the offices lined the external walls, with their tall, narrow, and pointed windows. The numerous windows and translucent window treatments proved too bright for the office occupants, and many covered the windows with paper or kept their drapes closed.

(Text excerpted from the Wayne State University Walking Tour script developed by the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board staff.)