Earl William Pellerin, FAIA (1905-94) was the first professor and later, first dean of what is today Lawrence Technological University’s College of Architecture and Design. The University’s founder, Russell Lawrence, also gave him responsibility for developing and teaching the University’s first courses in civil engineering and hydraulics.
Pellerin’s legacy continues to loom large. He created Lawrence Tech’s first Southfield campus master plan in the early 1950s that remains the foundation of all construction that has occurred since on the 102-acre site. He led the teams that designed the Engineering, Architecture, and Science Buildings, University Housing-South, Campus Facilities building, and what was originally the president’s residence. That he did all that along with sustaining a private practice, serving as dean, and often carrying a full teaching load for 42 years is remarkable.
Pellerin recalled that five architectural students initially enrolled and he could take the entire class on field trips in his car.[i] When he retired as dean in 1974, architecture enrollment neared 900 students, it was the fourth largest program in the country, and he was the sole remaining member still serving from Lawrence Tech’s original faculty.
Pellerin described the early years at Lawrence Tech by saying, “The faculty was small, the challenges were great, the spirit was good, and the time was right.”[ii]
Influenced by and friendly with such legendary architects as Albert Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Minoru Yamasaki, and Eliel and Eero Saarinen, the University of Michigan-educated Pellerin was a strong advocate for having students solve real world problems. His axiom, “do more than the minimum required” was taken to heart by several generations of students.[iii]
“Dean Pellerin became a leaning post and guiding factor in the careers of the many who came in contact with him,” said James P. Ryan, BArE’66. “I don’t know why they put a door on his office – it was never closed.”[iv] Ryan went on to found JPRA Architects, a leading designer of commercial and retail facilities nationwide.
John V. Yanik, BArE’54, called Pellerin’s dedication to the profession and students inspiring. “He understood the importance of quality in one’s life — the value of cultivating the habit of life-long learning and the need to prepare oneself by continually broadening one’s experience through study, travel, and discipline.”[v] Yanik became a professor of architecture and urban planning at the Catholic University of America.
Pellerin was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1973, and received the gold medal from AIA-Detroit in 1970, and AIA-Michigan in 1973, recognizing his professional leadership and contributions to the advancement of the local, state, and national AIA, and community. He held several positions in the state AIA and for 12 years was design judge for Michigan’s board of examiners. His early practice included stints with Albert Kahn and Smith, Hinchman & Grylls.
He was proud, as a young architect, to have been part of the small team that designed Detroit’s Trinity Lutheran Church, noting that it was his only project where the funder, while wanting sound judgment, set no limit on cost.[vi] In private practice he later teamed with a variety of others to design additional churches, 20 high-end residences, and Lawrence Tech’s original campus buildings. He received a fellowship to study church architecture in Europe in 1939, won the national award for design sponsored by the National Council of Churches in 1958, and three times was selected to design modern homes for the annual showcase sponsored by area builder associations.
“I believe it is the human quality of the designer, his feelings for people, his devotion to his work and his awareness of aesthetic qualities which differentiate the builder of buildings from an architect, who is an artist,” Pellerin said.[vii]
He founded the American Institute of Architects student chapter on campus and was its adviser for decades, during which time it grew by the early 1970s into the largest in the country. In 1963, Lawrence Tech awarded Pellerin the doctor of architecture, honoris causa.
[i] Pellerin, Earl W. Interview with the author, Mar. 15, 1982. Audiotape. MPA Archives.
[ii] Pellerin, Earl W., “Reflections on Life in Architecture and Education,” Michigan Society of Architects Monthly Bulletin, Dec. 1974.
[iii] Pellerin, Earl W., 1953 Yearbook, Lawrence Technological University.
[iv] Ryan, James P., Remarks, Pellerin Tribute Dinner, Dec. 6, 1992, MPA Archives.
[v] Yanik, John, Letter for Pellerin Tribute Dinner, Dec. 1, 1992. MPA Archives.
[vi] Pellerin, Earl W., Interview with the author, Mar. 15, 1982.
[vii] Abatt, Corinne, “He Designed, Nutured LIT,” Observer and Eccentric Newspapers, Sept. 18, 1975.