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Michael Abrahamson

Current Student—Ph.D in Architecture

Michael Abrahamson

Specialization: History and Theory
Advisor: Prof. Claire Zimmerman

Michael Abrahamson is a PhD Candidate in the History and Theory of Architecture. Trained as both a designer and critic, his writing has appeared in magazines like The Architectural Review and CLOG, academic journals like San Rocco and Project Journal, and newspapers including The Sunday Times. He previously taught the design, history, and theory of architecture at Kent State University.

Michael's dissertation project is the first rigorous critical analysis of the important Detroit based architect Gunnar Birkerts (1925-). In it, he traces the persistence of the atelier model of architectural practice in a period increasingly dominated by corporate organization. Examining archival materials related to five key projects spanning two decades, he traces shifts in Birkerts’s working methods that responded to management expectations imposed by bureaucratic clients and demands brought about by the profession’s reorganization. Ultimately, Michael shows the ways in which Birkerts's practice model and its concomitant claims to authorship were stretched to their limits as the scale of his building projects grew.

Selected Publications:

  • “Actual Center of Detroit: Method, Management, and Decentralization in Albert Kahn’s General Motors Building, 1919-1923,” Forthcoming in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 
  • “Brutalism in North America,” Book Chapter, Forthcoming in SOS Brutalism Exhibition Catalog (Frankfurt, Germany: Deutsches Architekturmuseum, 2017)
  • “Welcome to Brutalism,” The Sunday Times, London, England (October 25, 2015)
  • “Designing the Great Migration,” coauthored with James D. Graham, The Aggregate website, Black Lives Matter Dossier (March, 2015) http:/we-aggregate.org/piece/designing-the-great-migration
  • “Sculpture into Architecture,” in San Rocco 9: Monks and Monkeys (Spring 2014)
  • CLOG: Brutalism, coeditor (February, 2013)

Funding and Awards:

  • Dissertation Writing Institute Fellowship, awarded by Sweetland Center for Writing, University of Michigan, 2017
  • Taubman College Doctoral Student Award, University of Michigan, 2016
  • Summer Research Award, awarded by Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2016
  • Summer Research Grant, awarded by Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, University of Michigan, 2016
  • Summer Research Award, awarded by Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2015
  • Nathan and Marilyn Levine Architectural Research Fellowship, awarded by Taubman College, University of Michigan, 2014
  • Graduate Student Research Fellowship, awarded by Bentley Historical Library, 2013
  • A. Alfred Taubman Scholarship, awarded by Taubman College, University of Michigan, 2012

Conference Presentations:

  • “Freedom and Flexibility: Gunnar Birkerts at Tougaloo College, 1965-67,” Buell Dissertation Colloquium, Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Columbia University, New York, April 1, 2017
  • “Actual Center of Detroit: Decentralizing Tendencies in Albert Kahn’s GM Building,” Albert Kahn Research Symposium, Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Michigan, March 3, 2017
  • “The Interchangeability of Things: Museology and Ethnography in Three Works by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1979-1985,” A Beautiful Role: Architecture and the Display of Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, October 8, 2016
  • “From Latourette to Neiman Marcus: On the Use and Disuse of Images in Architectural Criticism,” Writing Buildings Conference, Kent School of Architecture, Canterbury, UK, July 15, 2016
  • “Testing the Establishment – Gunnar Birkerts in 1960s Detroit,” Research in Progress Series, Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture, Chicago, Illinois, November 5, 2015
  • "'Decent and Suitable' Modules: The Politics of Construction Research in HUD’s Operation Breakthrough, 1969-1974," Fifth International Conference on Construction History, Chicago, Illinois, June 6, 2015
  • "A Brutal Context: Gunnar Birkerts at Tougaloo College, 1965-1972," Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2015