Approaching Imperfection With Appreciation

The art of kintsugi and CWD's vision for 37 Ottawa & 50 Monroe

May 14, 2019

When CWD Real Estate Investment first acquired the 50 Monroe property in March 2012, the possibilities sent chills of excitement through the community. For the first time in nearly a decade, the buildings that made up the 50 Monroe complex would be relieved of the stark, metallic skin that was draped over the building in the ‘80s, and its original architecture would be unveiled and returned to the City.

CWD's portfolio boasts a number of major restoration and renovation projects spanning from residential to office spaces in Grand Rapids and everything in between. Despite the condition and the challenges posed by 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe, CWD looks at them with an overwhelming sense of pride -- scuffs, scars, and all.

In 2017, CWD began the removal process of the modern facade. As panels were removed, the group began to formulate an accurate picture of what this project would look like. To the company’s dismay, the building’s original facade had not been preserved as well as it could’ve been. The finer details of the building’s architecture had not survived the wear and tear experienced throughout its lifetime. From the mismatched brickwork to the damaged window arches and missing cornice, removing the modern facade revealed a damaged and imperfect version of what used to be.

To CWD, the imperfections that are weaved into the foundation of these buildings are more than blemishes on something that could’ve been; they’re essential to the preservation of the building and its history. These “scars” are an homage to its past, helping to keep its story alive for generations to come.

Rather than trying to erase the scuffs and bruises the buildings have sustained over the years, CWD made the decision to embrace them as essential qualities of the buildings. Finding an appreciation for these imperfections is the core of the Japanese art of kintsugi.

The Art of Kintsugi

Kintsugi is a technique that involves using lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum to repair broken pieces of pottery. The result is not only aesthetically pleasing but is also less wasteful than simply throwing things away.

Rather than trying to cover up or reject the imperfections in a piece, kintsugi highlights these characteristics as something unique and important to the object. The repairs made to a piece of pottery through kintsugi effectively gives it new life while bringing attention to the cracks and seams throughout. In many ways, kintsugi celebrates the history of these pottery pieces, similar to what CWD has done with 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe.

These two buildings are being re-introduced to the community with hopes of connecting pivotal landmarks and locations within the City. With CWD's latest office spaces in Grand Rapids located at 37 Ottawa and the AC Hotel Grand Rapids Downtown at 50 Monroe, there is a lot of potential for bringing new energy to the area that has been missing for decades.

In an ideal world, CWD would have leaped at the opportunity to restore the damages to their former glory. Rather than dwell on the features that were lost on the damaged facade, it seemed almost more fitting to celebrate and embrace these imperfections with similar tact and grace as kintsugi joinery methods.

CWD’s kintsugi-esque approach to the restoration of 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe projects pays its respects to the buildings’ past while looking forward to the future. A closer look at the fine details of these projects reveals the true character of the buildings, the area, and the City of Grand Rapids.

The Buildings' Cornice

One of the premiere features of the building was its ornate cornice. The detailing along the top of the building provided a “cap” for the structure beneath.

In the removal of the metal facade, CWD was hoping to uncover some semblance of the historic detailing seen in old photographs and drawings. Unfortunately, the cornice beneath was severely damaged, exposing metal sutures that ran along the tops of the buildings.

Though unattractive and disappointing, the metal framing was integral to the building’s structure. CWD’s solution was to provide a new cap to the building, helping to make the buildings feel whole again.

Across the tops of both 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe, you’ll find a metal lining that acts as a nod to the damage that was done and provides an aesthetic upgrade to the buildings.

Window Arches

As CWD began doing research on what might be under the metal facade, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the ornate window arches throughout the building. The arches had a unique character about them, and being able to re-introduce them to the City of Grand Rapids was a goal for the group.

However, when the metal skin came down, the team discovered the severely damaged remains of what was once there.

The damaged arches were replaced with bricks, helping to tie together the building’s modernized exterior. Though more subtle than the original design, the new arches blend themselves back into the foundation of the building. They operate in the background of a grander picture.

Fallen Smokestack

A major event in the history of the 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe properties was the smokestack collapse that occurred as a part of the 1984 renovation.

During the renovation, there were plans to remove the smoke stack from the building. In the demolition of the structure, the pillar was expected to fall due South. However, the demolition team lost control of the smokestack and it fell South East, right into the side of 37 Ottawa building.

As a result, a large chunk of both buildings was heavily damaged. Rather than repairing the damages with the original bricks, dull, grey blocks were put down in their place, leaving visible scars of the damages.

Not only were these blocks covered by the aluminum skin CWD has since removed, but they were also hidden beneath the atrium that connected the two buildings. Stripping away both of these bandages exposed the damages for the first time in decades.

Not only did these grey blocks challenge the aesthetic of the buildings, but they also compromised its ability to provide proper insulation to the insides of these spaces. In order to meet energy code requirements and ensure that the building was insulated properly, CWD made the decision to place metal paneling up over the damaged portions of the building.

In addition to their functionality, these panels contribute to the building’s new modernized aesthetic. However, the panels stand as an homage to the smokestack collapse, and the damage the buildings sustained.

Hotels & Office Spaces in Grand Rapids

Buildings interact with their surrounding in a similar way to pottery. They shape the environment around it in a way that is subtle, but important to defining the scene in front of you. Much like any art, there is more to a building than what meets the eye. The history, planning, and execution are just as much a part of the building’s story as the final product.

The similarities between the decisions CWD made in the restoration of 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe were done with a deep appreciation for the building’s past. In its newest iteration, the buildings are equipped with the resources to serve the community for years to come.

At the heart of kintsugi pottery techniques is a philosophy rooted in respect for the history and the journey. The gold lacquer filling between the cracks and seams in these pieces highlights these aspects of the pottery and looks at them not as something negative, but rather, as a thing of beauty. There is a similar fondness that can be found in examining the changes CWD made to 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe’s exterior.

37 Ottawa is now offering the Class A, modern, loft office spaces in Grand Rapids. Available spaces range from 2,000-15,000 square feet. Be the first to see inside the buildings on May 30th at the Something Spanish Fundraiser event for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The main event is followed by a VIP afterglow at the AC Hotel ahead of its Grand Opening on June 3rd.

The restoration of 37 Ottawa and 50 Monroe has been a long road, but CWD is ecstatic to return the buildings back to the Grand Rapids community. Learn more about leasing and availability on CWD's website or call 616-726-1700.

CWD Real Estate Investment is a leading, local real estate investment and property management firm in Grand Rapids. Formed in 2008 by partners Sam Cummings, Scott Wierda, and Dan DeVos, CWD commits to strengthening the urban center and community of Grand Rapids by making strategic investments that provide high-quality places to work, eat, shop, live, and be entertained.