You know what they say, cranes are a sign of growth in a city. Detroit has seen multiple additions of cranes around town with new buildings going up and old ones being restored. Take a walking tour of Detroit and visit some of the architectural artworks that have dressed our skyline for decades.
The Fisher Building
Built in 1928, just before the Great Depression, the Fisher Building’s Art Deco design is the heart of New Center. The building was designed by Albert Kahn and sits at 30 stories. It once sported a gold leaf tiled roof but was covered with asphalt during World War II, for fears of an enemy attack. Now you can find a green roof that is illuminated at night with colored lights giving it the original gold appearance. Step into the three-story lobby, lined with 40 different types of marble, to see the interior artwork all around you, including a magnificent ceiling mural.
Meaning ‘The place where the rocks open out,” the Penobscot, originates from a Native American tribe in Maine. The 1928 Art Deco structure, designed by Wirt C. Rowland, was once the tallest building in Detroit, until the construction of the Renaissance Center (1977). The unique H-shape building allows for maximum sunlight for all its tenants. The structure is decorated with American Indian motifs seen in the entranceway and lobby.
The Book Brothers recruited Louis Kamper to construct a grand building on Washington Boulevard. The Book Tower is 36 stories tall and adorned in Italian Renaissance ornaments. Columns, florets, scrolls and crests are broken up by nude female figures carved out of stone. Kamper did not add a fire evacuation route in the design which called for the addition of the unusual fire escape down the side of the building. The Brothers had plans of adding two more towers to the Book Tower, but the Depression caused those plans to fall through.
Built by the Union Trust Company, the Union Trust Building was completed in 1929 by Wirt C. Rowland. As the Union Trust felt the pain of the Stock Market Crash, the company was saved by investors and received a new name of Union Guardian Building. Today, it’s simply known as the Guardian Building. The Art Deco style was designed similar to a church and was once promoted as “The Cathedral of Finance.” In the main lobby, the Aztec-designed cement-plaster ceiling is covered with horsehair to help reduce the echoing and noise, making the lobby surprisingly quiet. The colorful, mural-filled building was designed, built, and decorated by Michigan natives.
A newer addition to the skyline, One Woodward opened in 1963. The concrete tower with Gothic arches was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, in an international style. Yamasaki will take ideas from One Woodward to use on future designs, including the former World Trade Center in New York City. The architecture of the building goes beyond the structure itself. On the outside of the tower you can find an 11-foot sculpture designed by Italian artist Giacomo Manzu. The Passo di Danza, or Step of the Dance, surrounded by a pool of flowers, overlooks the Jefferson Ave. entrance.
The Packard Automotive Company was looking for a fresh look as they moved their headquarters to Detroit from Warren, Ohio. Another Albert Kahn design, the complex followed the typical mill-style factory theme for the first nine buildings, completed between 1903-1905. For the 10th design, Kahn changed the design to incorporate large open work spaces with large windows for natural lighting. During this project, The Kahn System was first used, which is reinforcement concrete that features strength bars bent at 45-degree angles. The safer working conditions of the 10th building changed how industrial structures were built moving forward. During both WWI and WWII, the Packard Plant moved their focus on helping the war efforts building engines.
In 1971, Henry Ford II announced the plan for a new building, the Renaissance Center, the winning name chosen from over 140,000 contest entries. Today, the tower has been nicknamed the RenCen. The towers were designed by John Portman – who designed similar buildings in Atlanta and San Francisco — using his traditional symmetrical squares and circles. Beginning construction in 1973, the last of the five modern towers was completed in 1981. The Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center, the center tower, is currently the tallest building in Detroit sitting at 73 stories. It’s surrounded by four 39-story office towers. In 1996, GM bought the building and moved its headquarters there.
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, locally known as the Belle Isle Conservatory, was designed by Albert Kahn. Opened in 1904, it’s the oldest continually opened conservatory in the United States. The building and wings were originally constructed out of wood but was reconstructed out of steel and aluminum in 1949. The center dome has a height of 85 feet.
Some of the buildings mentioned above are currently closed and are being restored, but you can still admire their beauty from the outside. Please comment below on some of your favorite Detroit architecture treasures!