Michigan Contractor Is Challenged to Recreate a Roof’s 40-year-old Mural

A Michigan Contractor Is Challenged to Recreate a Roof’s 40-year-old Mural

Kevin Clausen has faced a lot of challenges during his 30 years at Great Lakes Systems, a Jenison, Mich.-based construction company specializing in single-ply commercial roofs. But when he received a call several years ago from a Kent County official about an unusual upcoming project, Clausen knew he might be taking on a challenge unlike any other.

Artist Alexander Calder created the 127-square-foot red, black and white mural painted on the roof of the Kent County Administration building.

Artist Alexander Calder created the 127-square-foot red

, black and white mural painted on the roof of the Kent County

Administration building.

Kent County is home to Grand Rapids, Mich. To understand the challenge that Clausen was about to face, it’s important to understand a little Grand Rapids history. In the late 1960s, swept along by the tide of enthusiasm for urban renewal, the city demolished 120 buildings in its aging downtown core and built a new City Hall and County Administration building, surrounded by a concrete plaza. The new government buildings were designed by architects who were shaped by mid-century ideas of good urban design: sleek, boxy single-use structures, easily accessed by automobile and, therefore, providing ample parking. Pedestrians were something of an afterthought.At about the same time, the National Endowment for the Arts initiated its Art in Public Places Program. There was general agreement in Grand Rapids that the broad plaza in front of the new buildings seemed empty and generally lacked visual interest. The city applied for a grant to support the funding of a monumental sculpture to serve as a focal point for its new plaza and selected renowned sculptor Alexander Calder for the commission. Two years later, Calder’s sculpture—bright red, 43- feet tall, 54-feet long, 30-feet wide, weighing 42 tons—took its place on the central plaza. It was named “La Grande Vitesse”, which roughly translates into “Grand Rapids”. For obvious reasons, the broad plaza has been called Calder Plaza—and has been the focus of controversy ever since.

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