Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Organizing the World

Girard house, Grosse Pointe. Photo by Haanel Cassidy/Courtesy Vitra Design Museum, Alexander Girard Estate.

On September 21, 1967, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson visited Columbus, Indiana. The architects of the town’s famous modern architecture program lined up to greet her outside Gunnar Birkerts’s Lincoln Elementary School (1967), leaning on the concrete bollards designed to channel the schoolchildren up the wide concrete stairs and into the body of the school.

John Dinkeloo, Dan Kiley, Robert Venturi, I.M. Pei, Harry Weese, John Carl Warnecke, Birkerts. But over on the far right, clasping hands with Pei and almost out of frame, is Alexander Girard. That’s where he liked to be.

Designer Alexander Girard was also an architect—though most don’t know him as such—and a key player in making America look and feel modern. Today he is best known for the fabrics he designed as director of the Herman Miller Textile Division between 1952 and 1973, which included everything from colorful stripes to eye-crossing checkers, cut-out flowers to a hand-drawn alphabet.