The Michigan State Medical Society Building was designed by world-renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki and his firm Yamasaki & Associates, of Troy, Michigan, and is an early example of his work in the New Formalism method of design. It is located at the northwest corner of Saginaw Street and Abbott Road, within the city limits of East Lansing, Michigan. The building faces south on West Saginaw Street (Business Loop I-69), and is set back from the road behind a deep grassy lawn.
The original structure was completed in 1961 and together with the site purchase and landscaping cost a total of $750,000. The building footprint measures 155 feet in length by fifty-five feet in width. At two stories in height, the most prominent feature of this structure is the thirty-one semi-cylindrical cast-concrete arch sections which create a vaulted roofline. Tall, slender concrete columns support this vaulted roof and are set between large glass windows, which create a glass wall on the primary and rear facades. A two-story addition was added in 1979, creating an ell off the west facade of the original building.
The Michigan State Medical Society Building represents one of Yamasaki’s early forays into a developing branch of Modernism called New Formalism. “New Formalism emerged in the 1960s as a rejection of the limits of Modernism. The style reflects a taste for classicism and is a mid-century effort to update past styles with new technologies and design elements. New Formalist buildings utilize Classical elements. . .[and] are based upon a carefully organized sense of space and an emphasis is placed on the structure of the building.” The Michigan State Medical Society Building is an excellent example of New Formalism, and includes many of the identifying attributes of this style: free standing block, symmetrical elevations, the presence of the arch, projecting roof slab, columnar supports, and smooth and glossy wall surfaces.
Yamasaki believed strongly in many of the aspects of New Formalism, and was one of the preeminent architects in the nation promoting this style beginning in the late 1950s. Among its aspects, he believed very strongly in the use of the arch, noting “Buildings must be designed so that the façade enhances the structure. I also believe the contemporary architects should not ignore the arch…simply because these were used in traditional buildings. The arch is an excellent structural form…and is much stronger in steel and concrete than in stone or brick.” The predominance of the vaulted arch roofline as a defining characteristic of the Michigan State Medical Society Building clearly exemplifies these ideals. The arches serve as the major aesthetic design element, but are also an important structural component in the strength of the building.
Nietering, Nathaniel H. “Michigan State Medical Society Building National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Lansing, Michigan, 2011.