Ann Arbor’s New High Tech Office: “Industrial but Modern” = What?

In response to an article posted on on April 19, 2012 titled “Tech company transforms former Leopold Bros. brewery into ‘industrial but modern’ office space”

Please note these are not my photos, they are copyright of

I was asked to comment on this article about this ex-brewery being converted into an office for a high tech firm in Ann Arbor. Well I guess I will say something.

The local digital newspaper praised the “adaptive reuse” as “Industrial but Modern”. I started to wonder what that means. “Industrial” reminds me of the abandoned car factories with “mushroom-ed” columns and lattice square-like huge windows in Detroit. “Modern” is more like the technology-of-the-time aesthetic, like the Hancock Tower or Sears Tower. The term “modem” is very confusing. Things are only “modem” when they first come out as something new. After a while, they become things of the past and not modern. A good example would be the Eames Plywood Chair from the 40s. It was modern but not anymore. Now it is a classic piece of well–designed chair.

I have gone through all the photos from the article but fail to find traces of “Industrial but Modern” touches in this “high tech company” office. All these brick and wood truss only remind me of a type of local vernacular building style at the turn of the 20th century in the America. Sorry it doesn’t look “industrial”. As for the “modem” touches, there is no sign of a modern aesthetic in the design, at all. If you want a good example of a “modem” office, just turn on the TV and watch the cool offices in one of the CSI shows. Here there is only typical dry wall office with aluminum-framed glass wall plus tons of carpet tiles. And the floor is just too glossy to be “modern” or “industrial”. The only “modern” things here are the expensive chairs from maybe Herman Miller or Steelcase.

The use of the term “Adaptive reuse” in historic preservation can quite be abused sometimes. Just because you “reuse” a building or part of it does not mean you adapt it. Here we see a new office that has “recycled” the shell of this former brewery. But if the article never told you that they made beers here before, would you have found that out by being there now?

Probably not. The reason is that the new design has not adapted any former spatial relationship or tried to preserve any kind of connection to the previous life of this building. What I have described may have sounded a little abstract. Well, to make it simpler, if they have not polished that floor so shinny and glossy but retained the original feel which is probably kind of rough and dull, that would have already a better story to tell of the origin of the “flaws” on the former “industrial-ly used” floor. This former brewery here was brutally gutted and its space was then filled with whatever the tech company needs.

Either way, the effort to recycle old and good buildings deserves to be recognized by the public.


3 thoughts on “Ann Arbor’s New High Tech Office: “Industrial but Modern” = What?

  1. sarah says:

    good write up Kam. I am also intrigued by the definition of modern. I don’t have time to delve deeper at this time. Mid-Century modern is very popular right now. I guess that has a more definable set of traits.

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