Kresge Wins International Architectural Award for Marygrove Early Learning Center

The Kresge Foundation has received a prestigious international architectural award for its commissioning to the Marygrove Center for Early Learning as part of a wide-ranging partnership to transform the former Marygrove College campus into an innovative cradle-to-function campus.

Kresge has received one of the 12 prestigious Didalo Minosse Awards — awarded every two years by the ALA-Assoarchiti, the Italian association of professional architects — for being commissioned to the Marygrove Center for Early Learning and for selecting Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville, Arkansas, to design the 28,000-square-foot center that opened in August The past for 144 students from birth to 5 years.

Kresge was one of four non-Italian winners and the only one in the United States.

The awards, which have been awarded since 1997, celebrate the unique relationship between the client and the architect necessary to create inspiring architecture.

Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director of the Detroit Program, received the Kresge Prize last Friday in Vicenza, Italy, along with architect Marlon Blackwell. The party was held at 16The tenth The Century Theater Olympico, designed by Andrea Palladio, is considered one of the world’s most influential architects of the Italian Renaissance.

Kresge Detroit Program Managing Director Wendy Lewis Jackson and Architect Marlon Blackwell received certificates of appreciation from Dedalo Minosse. To the left is Dr. Valentina Galan, Director of Cultural Heritage and Activities in the Veneto Region.

After receiving the awards, Jackson praised the work of the Blackwell team for their engagement with the community to create “a transformative space that demonstrates the dignity of young children. It is a wonderful, integral part of a neighborhood they work to revitalize. … to see the Detroit project honored by an international panel of judges is proof.” Unbelievable what we have achieved with our campus partners in Marygrove.”

Blackwell said: “We are very proud to receive this major international award from the Kresge Foundation. It truly underscores the value of well-designed public projects such as the Marygrove Early Learning Center and the positive educational impact it provides to its communities – with dignity, amazement and joy!”

Announcing this year’s awards, Didalo Minos Prize Director Marcella Gabbani said the event “shows how architecture, just like music, is a global language that knows no borders and no political barriers, through which professionals, clients and people interested in architecture can… Everyone around the world can connect with each other and recognize themselves as the most authentic form of true beauty and quality of life.”

Wendy Lewis Jackson of Chris described the center as “a transformative space that shows the dignity of young children.” (Image copyright Tim Horsley)

A two-day seminar followed the awards ceremony, where Dan Petera, Dean of the School of Architecture and Community Development at the University of Detroit, joined Jackson and Blackwell for panel discussions on Detroit’s leadership in community-involved design projects. The Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy led all community involvement in the Marygrove Early Learning Center.

An exhibition of winners opened in conjunction with the awards in Vicenza, and is scheduled to travel to 50 cities, including Detroit.

In materials submitted to the award committee, the architects described the challenge of designing the $22 million building to align in function and aesthetics with a campus dominated by the four-story Tudor-style liberal arts building from 1927.

Walkways extend into the building along with an inner courtyard where children and staff play.
Interior patios connect the building to the outside and bring natural light inside. (Image copyright Tim Horsley)

The Marygrove Early Learning Center manages to be stunning in its own right, but in harmony with the campus, in part, with a low but distinctive profile that heads upward into the Liberal Arts Building. The one-story horizontal center also connects to the landscape of the campus trees around it.

Because the available space rules out a typical one-story strip-style layout, the Blackwell team wrapped the strip on itself so that each classroom would have access to the outside.

Meanwhile, the multicolored, vertically striped terra-cotta livery is inspired by traditional African-American quilts in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and is meant to celebrate the impact on Detroit’s history through the Great Migration of Blacks from the South. This “multicolored coat” includes some colors that relate to the stone and brick hues of the old campus buildings along with more vibrant hues that set them apart.

Picture of a building featuring the colors of the cladding.
The multi-colored cladding is a key element of the center’s design. (Image copyright Tim Horsley)

The Marygrove Early Learning Center is a component of P-20-related educational opportunities on campus, spanning from prenatal to pre-kindergarten, kindergarten through 12th grade through college, and ultimately, supporting workforce development. The school opened in Marygrove in September 2019 with an inaugural class of 9The tenth students. A new degree is added each year, and the first graduation will take place in June 2024.

The school at Marygrove Elementary—in the building that began as Immacolata High School and later became home to Bates Academy—has received its first kindergarten, 1Street and 2second abbreviationclassmates last month and will add a grade each year until he has a full complement of K-8 as a high school feeder.

The Early Learning Center is operated by Starfish Family Services. The school in Marygrove is operated by the Detroit Public Schools Community District, and both work with the University of Michigan College of Education under the umbrella of the P-20 Partnership on the campus of the former Marygrove College, now overseen by the Marygrove Conservancy. Conservation and Partnership are supported by the Kresge Foundation.

This is not the first architectural award associated with the Early Learning Center.

In 2019, Blackwell was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal, the organization’s highest annual award, which in the past has gone to the likes of Michael Graves, Frank Gehry, Im Pee, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright and Eero Saarinen. and Eliel Saarinen and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The center was announced last month as the Honor Award winner for a building from AIA Detroit (the metro-Detroit chapter of the American Institute of Architects). In the words of these judges: “The light, vibrant and playful structure is delightful and is carefully stitched into the fabric of its natural and artificial surroundings.”

“Schools are often uninspiring, overly graphic, repetitive spaces,” Blackwill said. In Marygrove, he said his team was able to “challenge the kind of poor building.”

Dedalo Minosse, by the way, takes its name from Dedalus and King Minos of Greek mythology, the first architect and his first client.

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