Architecture: Take it in during ArtPrize


The Ledyard Building stands in downtown Grand Rapids on Ottawa Avenue NW. Courtesy CWD

The official numbers aren’t in yet, but anecdotal stories from our buildings tell us that ArtPrize has been a huge success.

For instance, on Saturday, Sept. 27:

Memphis Smokehouse, at 180 Monroe NW: The business had to close at 6 p.m. after selling 100 pounds of brisket, 100 pounds of pork, and 425 hamburgers in one day.

ArtPrize Hospitality Center, the Ledyard Building, at 125 Ottawa NW: 28,546 different visitors accessed our wireless network in one day.

ArtPrize Venue, at 50 Monroe Ave. NW: Never-before-seen lines out the door of this mid-sized venue.

UICA, at 2 West Fulton: Lines wrapped around the building for two blocks.

Watching these droves of people cycling through the buildings made me wonder if they also were taking in the art that is the architecture of their surroundings.  Grand Rapids has a history of strong architecture that visitors should take note of when visiting. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Grand Rapids Art Museum

The patrons mingling outside the Grand Rapids Art Museum are treated to views of one of Grand Rapids’ most iconic buildings. When it was built in 2007, it was named one of the seven most important buildings in the world by Newsweek. It was designed by a relatively unknown architect at the time, Kulapat Yantrasast.  The design of the GRAM contributed to Kulapat’s notoriety and he has gone on to design some of the most recognizable buildings around the world. In 2012, he was named one of the 100 Most Powerful People in the Art World by Art+Auction Magazine.

The 125,000- square-foot GRAM structure is an inviting modern design that highlights glass and concrete construction. The multi-storied interior layout has a combination of high ceiling atriums and smaller exhibit spaces. Notably, GRAM was the first museum in the world to get Gold LEED certification. The LEED certification highlights Grand Rapids' efforts in becoming a more sustainable city. The location of the building in the center of the city has key components of outside public areas for people to gather.

Ledyard Building

This year, the Ledyard Building is the hospitality center for ArtPrize. Originally constructed in 1874, William B. Ledyard and Moses V. Aldrich built the building for $100,000. They hired local architects Robinson and Barnaby. Architectural designs can almost be characterized by the era in which they are designed. Like most buildings in this era, the Ledyard was designed in a Late Victorian, Italianate fashion. Originally the materials were white brick trimmed with sandstone. Inside, the structure’s atrium goes all the way to the roof of the fourth floor — allowing natural light to permeate through the entire building. As Ledyard’s and Aldrich’s businesses grew, they combined buildings heading to the south until finally a major renovation connected the interior of the building to the Italiante buildings that face Monroe and the GRAM. The Ledyard that we know today is actually a combination of three different buildings. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Urban Institute of Contemporary Art/The Gallery on Fulton

This mixed-used project is a great example of what makes Grand Rapids different from other communities. The project was not possible without the three pillars that have made downtown Grand Rapids a success: a public, private, and philanthropic (through donations to the UICA) partnership. The architects selected for the project were Bob Bistry, Arden Freeman and Richard Parks of Built Form Architecture in Chicago. Their unique challenge was to create mixed use development of 56 residential units; a city-owned parking garage; and an exhibition center for UICA that was visually appealing for a property that is the gateway into the city of Grand Rapids. The modern structure now stands sentry at the intersection of Center City and the historic entertainment district. The architects were able to hide the parking garage from the street by using a combination of the buildings and a green screen. The aesthetically pleasing and functional exhibit center for the UICA was created by the local architectural firm VIA Design.

During your visit to ArtPrize or whenever you’re downtown, take a step back and look not only look at the art displayed in the buildings, but the art of the architecture, as well.

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