"You could say the roots of the Michigan Architectural Foundation go back as far as the fur trade. The Michigan Society of Architects formed the MAF in 1957 to save the Biddle House, a Mackinac Island fur trader's home dating back to the 18th century. "The organization saw an important artifact that was in dire need of repair," explains MAF Vice President Tom Mathison. Saving the house became the catalyst, he notes, to establish the Foundation as the Society's fundraising arm.
After contributing to the Biddle House restoration, the fledgling organization went into a dormant stage; it would be another historically significant building at risk that reactivated the MAF in the late 1980s. At a time when Detroit's urban core was in decline, the Foundation stepped up and purchased the 1851 Beaubien House-one of the oldest remaining homes in Detroit-as the Society's headquarters, setting an example for historic preservation and establishing a prominent downtown presence. "It was a bold and symbolic gesture," suggests Mathison. "The architects of Michigan planted a flag and said, 'We are here as part of the story to make Detroit a better place.'"
The MAF's dormant days were over. The organization has broadened its scope ever since- awarding scholarships and public grants, developing educational materials for K-12 students, curating collections of architecture books, publishing Great Architecture of Michigan and more-to further its mission of "advancing public awareness and understanding of how architecture enriches life." The Foundation hosted conferences in the 1990s to generate funds; today, contributions come from generous donors, fundraisers like the annual MAF golf outing and silent auction, and prudent investment of assets.
The organization continues to evolve, now with much more of a public presence reflected on the MAF board and in its programs. "It gives us a better perspective on how we can reach out to people in ways that are relevant to them," Mathison explains. That has spurred MAF support of recent programs like the interactive Design Zone exhibition at the Midland Center for the Arts, and the Flat Lot public architecture project in downtown Flint. Mathison sees MAF continuing to build on this successful grassroots outreach. "We don't want the MAF to be architects talking to ourselves," he says. "Our mission is to engage the public. That happens when we're out in the local communities, helping people understand, enact with, and appreciate the built environment around them."Right now, a 6-year-old might be flipping through a picture book about skyscrapers at his local library, then inspired to experiment with a nearby set of building blocks. A 10-year-old might be enchanted paging through A Magical Day With Matisse or Moxie: The Dachshund of Fallingwater, transporting her from the grim reality of a pediatric cancer ward.
The books are part of the "Build Imagination" collection, an MAF program that provides children's books on art, architecture, design and other creative pursuits to libraries and medical facilities throughout Michigan.
"The goal is to pique children's curiosity and encourage them to think creatively," explains Rae Dumke. The former executive director of AIA Michigan, Dumke began the program in 2015 with a $10,000 endowment from the MAF fund named in her honor.
Dumke teamed up with Michelle Saroki, former MAF trustee, and forged a partnership between the MAF and the Baldwin Library in Birmingham. The Baldwin Library houses the collection of 100 books, and lends them statewide through a cooperative library network.
The popular children's program grew out of another Dumke Fund/Baldwin Library endeavor, 100 Essential Architecture Books. With a mission to promote architecture to the public, the collection comprises technical texts, photography-rich "coffee table" books, monographs, biographies and more, all available nationwide through interlibrary loan.
Both the Essential Architecture and Build Imagination collections are updated regularly. In 2016, the MAF also expanded the Build Imagination program to reach children undergoing medical treatment. It donated 100-book Build Imagination collections to five medical facilities: University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor; Bronson Children's Hospital in Kalamazoo; Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City; Renucci House/Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids; and the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, also in Grand Rapids.
Committee representatives personally deliver the collections to the facilities, which use the books everywhere from infusion treatment rooms to recovery areas. "Like a good novel, we hope these books can provide a little escapism," Dumke suggests.
"We'll never truly know the impact of this," she acknowledges. "But I know we're doing a good thing."