Joseph T.A. Lee

Joseph T.A. LeeJoseph Lee (1918-2009)

A professor in U-M School Architecture and a practicing architect, Joseph Lee is best known for his involvement in the creation of Kerrytown.

Lee, son of immigrant Chinese parents, grew up in British Columbia and studied architecture at New York’s Columbia University. His first architectural job in New York was in a firm that had as two of the principles William Muschenheim and Wally Sanders. When Lee was invited to come to the University of Michigan in 1952, both Muschenheim and Sanders were already there. This was at a time when under the leadership of Dean Wells Bennett, the U-M Architecture School was looking for more modernist architects to join the department. Lee taught at U-M for three decades.

He also practiced architecture, working in partnership with George Brigham, the first modernist on the Architecture Department’s teaching staff. Lee described their philosophy in an Ann Arbor News article about the Conn house: “Every tree on the wooded rolling site was considered in the design of the house which was oriented to take best advantage of the trees, views. And the orientation considered the sunlight.” He goes on to say they dealt with “demands for openness, yet privacy.” After Brigham left Ann Arbor, Lee built a modern home for himself and his family on Sumac Lane. He also designed additions for other modern houses.

Lee was also very active in community affairs including serving on the Ann Arbor School Board, 1967-1970, appointments on many planning committees, and joining in community protests against changes he agreed were wrong. His most notable contribution was being the architect and a founding member for Arbor-A which converted a rundown area near Farmer’s Market into the Kerrytown shopping area we know today.

Ann Arbor Houses in partnership with George Brigham:
921 Forest Road, Barton Hills, Mary and Charles Brassfield, 1957
4 Highland Lane, William D. and Barbara Kennedy, 1957
740 Spring Valley Road, Barton Hills, Albert and Grace Marcwardt, 1957
2 Highland Lane, Charles and Katherine Sawyer, 1959
200 Orchard Lane, Jerome and Elizabeth Conn, 1959

Work done alone:
390 Sumac Lane, Joseph and Elsie Choy Lee, 1960
2650 Heatherway, William and Faith Willcox, garage and breezeway on a 1954 Brigham home, 1961
1025 Pomona, Robert and Ruth Iglehart addition on their 1955 house, 1963

By Grace Shackman