The Vandenberg Center, on Ottawa NW in the heart of downtown, is comprised of two of the most representative buildings in the modern International style in Grand Rapids.
the rectangular and tall 10-story City Building is paired with the broad and low 3-story County Building. The firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (1966-1968) designed these buildings, described by the Society of Architectural Historians as "Miesian," THE "STEEL FRAMES ARE CLOTHED IN BROWN CANADIAN GRANITE AND BRONZE-TINTED GLASS." "Miesian" is a reference to renowned modern architect Mies van de rohe who came to the United States from Europe in the 1930's and led the architecture program at illinois institute of technology, designing many of the modern buildings on that campus.
although the two buildings look very different at first glance, they present a unified glass and steel geometric public face on this street of modern high rise government and commercial buildings.
The local firm on the project was O'Bryon and Nachtegall. E. John Knapp recalled that he and Charles O'Bryon met with the firm SOM at a architectural conference in Chicago and proposed partnering with together on this project. Together they brought their proposal to the city and the rest is history.
that history includes urban renewal and the leveling of many historic structures to clear this area of downtown of what was considered at the time aging and decaying buildings. And that perhaps is part of why these now historic modern structures continue to meet with mixed reviews.
truly the City and County administrated buildings have been both beloved and strongly criticized by the public. the important thing is that they have survived.
Today tHEY are Grand Rapids main civic buildings decorated on the plaza by the iconic symbol of the city, the Calder sculpture, La Grand Vitesse. This sculpture is regularly repainted by the city to maintain its vivid red.