When we think of Detroit, what comes to our mind? Is it the detrimental history of redlining, inequities, city demographics, or the painstakingly beautiful architecture of buildings in Detroit which is possibly the largest existing collection from that time? It’s a testimony in itself for such a place to rise from the bounds of such a history and undoubtedly, the evolution of the architectural style and the buildings of Detroit speak for it. They define the city and completely justify the title, ‘Paris of the Midwest.’

Detroit Architecture has gone through a turnover throughout these last few years. Many buildings have been reimagined, restored and are being repurposed. It is second to none. Jaw-dropping neighborhoods, ornate details, designs dripped in Art Deco style, Massive skyscrapers, striking skylines, and unrivaled beautiful buildings are the keywords whenever Detroit Architecture is mentioned.

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Skyline of Detroit_©Creator-RT Photography

Let’s talk about these marvels one by one starting from the east to the west.

Renaissance Center | Buildings In Detroit

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Renaissance Center_©rsouthen

Renaissance Center is a commercial complex designed by John Portman and Associates that stands tall on the Detroit riverfront as the interconnected blue glass cylinder buildings. It was opened in the late 70s to lift the city’s demographics in terms of economy. The seven structures of the complex include the Detroit Marriott Hotel (the third tallest hotel in the western hemisphere) of 73 stories amidst the 4 office towers which gives the idea of it being a mini city in itself since it also has its zip code. Providing top-notch 360-degree views from the all-glass atrium towards the riverfront and the blue interconnected buildings in Detroit’s skyline, RenCen has arguably been the city’s focal point. 

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RenCen at night_©pix10.agoda.net/hotelImages/2450193/0/bd823773c12719e995e55dc8472d11a4.jpg?ca=7&ce=1&s=1024×768

Style- Brutalist Architecture (Heavy Massing of concrete on its lower floors and use of glass; Interior is like a cylindrical maze)
Material- Concrete, Glass
Address- Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243

Ally Detroit Center, former One Detroit Center 

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Ally Detroit Center and its spires_©Michelle Gerard

Completed in the 90s, One Detroit Center is another marvel in Detroit’s skyline on account of it being an astonishing work of postmodern design of skyscrapers in the city. It was designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee as one of the tallest office buildings in Michigan reaching up to the height of 619 feet (43- storey). Currently, it goes by the name ‘Ally Center’ since Ally financial called on it.

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Center at night_©www.reddit.com/r/CityPorn/

Style- Post Modern Architecture (A Neo-Gothic Tower that rises to a gabled roof with tall spires that accentuates the city’s skyline)
Material- Modern Granite
Address- One Detroit Center, 500 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

The Guardian Building | Buildings In Detroit

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Top view of Guardian Building_©puredetroit313

Debuting in 1929, The Guardian Building designed by Wirt C. Rowland is an astonishing precedent of Art Deco and Modern architectural styles in the city of Detroit for many other skyscrapers. Topped by two asymmetrical spires, it is a National historic landmark of the USA; an office building consisting of 40 stories. The Guardian Building or the “Cathedral of Finance” used unconventional materials like orange-colored brick, Pewabic Tile, Terracotta and, Rockwood pottery for its interiors and exteriors, along with the three-storey ceiling exhibiting an Aztec design made of pottery and tile. It houses the most stunning lobby, facade and the ceiling designs in the city. 

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Interior adornments_©Michelle & Chris Gerard

Style- Art Deco & Modern Architecture (A building that stands as the finest precedent of the architectural styles)
Material- Colored Bricks( Orange), Pewabic Tile, Terracotta, Rockwood Pottery, Horsehair (Ceiling)
Address- 00 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

Penobscot Building

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Red orb of penobscot_©historicdetroit.org

The Penobscot Building is a 47 storey Art Deco skyscraper (with a red orb on top) which forms a crucial part of the Detroit skyline. Three in number, Penobscot buildings are a work of Wirt Rowland made in Granite and Indiana Limestone & wrapped in ornamentation on the exteriors by Corrado Parducci. The red orb on the Greater Penobscot gets lit up frequently and marks its beauty in the Detroit skyline. The building’s interior consists of many embellishments as a tribute to the native Penobscot Indians. 

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Views from the street_ ©Michelle & Chris Gerard

Style- Art Deco (Visible Art deco influence in the ornamentation and sculptural decoration of the buildings.)
Material- Indiana Limestone, Granite, Glass
Address- Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

Westin Book Cadillac Hotel

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Facade_©Michelle & Chris Gerard

Designed in 1924 by Louis Kamper, Book Cadillac Hotel has 31 floors that consist of condos and penthouses on the top eight floors. Infamous as the largest hotel in the world in the 20s, it housed 1200 rooms. Its beauty was unrivaled on account of its ornate façade which was adorned with sculptures of Detroit’s historical figures. To save this gem from getting destroyed due to deterioration, abandonment, and the possibility of its impending demolition, The Ferchill Group took over it. They carried out a renovation and opened the remodeled building as ‘Westin Book Cadillac’ in 2008 which was home to some of the priciest condos in the city. The Hotel followed the aesthetics of the renaissance revival architectural style; it consists of Corinthian pilasters and ionic columns as neo-classical elements made in limestone and beige brickwork. 

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Evenings at Hotel_©www.bookcadillacwestin.com/gallery/woodward-ballroom

Style- Renaissance Revival Architecture (Visible from the existing façade and adornments)
Material- Limestone, Beige brickwork
Address- 1114 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

Book Tower

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View from the street_©Michelle & Chris Gerard

Originally Louis Kamper designed the Book Tower shortly after the Book Cadillac Hotel which was conceived by the Book Brothers. Apart from how magnificent this structure is, the ‘Cake-like’ design of this structure has been argued upon since then. Kamper installed many adornments like Corinthian columns, caryatids, scrolls, floral patterns, etc. all over the structure and topped it with a bronze cap. Later it went through a few reconstructions and gained a slightly new outlook in the eyes of the folk. This 36-storey tower was power-washed to polish the beauty that this structure is.

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The green roof and staircase_©wikimapia.org/54916/Book-Tower-and-Book-Building-abandoned#/photo/3003672

Style- Neoclassical, Italian Renaissance-style (Created with a unique dual-atrium design, it allows for ample natural light.)
Material- Limestone
Address- Book Tower, Detroit, MI 48226

Fox Theatre

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Built in 20s, The Fox Theatre is a performing arts theatre that has a seating capacity of 5,174. It restored itself in 1988. The theatre is predominantly built in art deco style blended with Indian, Burmese, Chinese, and Persian motifs as interiors. Fox Theatre has been used as a venue for live events and the vertical lighted tower that reads ‘FOX’ sets it apart from the rest of its surroundings. It houses an exquisite lobby with plaster alcoves in the ceiling and deeply embellished columns with motifs and pathways interconnected by 16 doors.

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Style- Art Deco (Visible Art deco influence in the ornamentation and the interiors.)
Material- Steel, RCC, Terracotta, Glass
Address- Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

The Detroit Masonic Temple | Buildings In Detroit

Front Elevation_©masonicdet
Front Elevation_©masonicdet

Built by George D. Mason, this 1037-roomed structure has three parts, a shrine, a chapel, many lodge rooms, a drill hall, ballrooms, a cafeteria and a pool. Interiors feature ornate decoration in Egyptian, Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance style motifs. Plaster and metal work was done by sculptor Corrado Porduai. He did the ornamentation on many of the Detroit buildings which eventually weaved them in a harmony of the styles, materials and rhythms.

The masonic temple has distinctive sculptural ornamentation in both its interior & exterior.

Interior Of Chapel_©Photo by Detroit Free Press
Interior Of Chapel_©Photo by Detroit Free Press

Style- Neo-Gothic Architectural Style (Visible Art deco influence in the ornamentation and the interiors.)
Material- Limestone
Address- Temple St, Detroit, MI 48201
Charles H. Wright Museum

Front view_©cdn.visitdetroit.com/content/uploads/2017/02/19111041/wsi-imageoptim-Charles-H-Wright-Museum-African-American-History-Exterior-1500.jpg?w=999
Front view_©cdn.visitdetroit.com/content/uploads/2017/02/19111041/wsi-imageoptim-Charles-H-Wright-Museum-African-American-History-Exterior-1500.jpg

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History features aspects in the pursuit of exploring and celebrating the rich cultural legacy of African Americans. The museum has a plethora of features among which it is infamous for the rotunda and high glass dome atrium. Spread over an area of 125,000 square feet in Detroit, this structure was built by Sims Varner in 1997.

Exterior envelope_ ©www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tripadvisor.com%2FAttraction_Review-g42139-d134679-Reviews-Charles_H_Wright_Museum_of_African_American_History-Detroit_Michigan.html&psig=AOvVaw1VpJknAQrSAYjI859D8T5d&ust=1664220370398000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAwQjRxqFwoTCNjkw5XWsPoCFQAAAAAdAAAAABA0
Exterior envelope_ ©www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tripadvisor.com%2FAttraction_Review-g42139-d134679-Reviews-Charles_H_Wright_Museum_of_African_American_History-Detroit_Michigan.html&psig=AOvVaw1VpJknAQrSAYjI859D8T5d&ust=1664220370398000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAwQjRxqFwoTCNjkw5XWsPoCFQAAAAAdAAAAABA0

Style- Renaissance
Material- Brass, Bronze, Mahogany, Marble
Address- 315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Detroit Institute of Arts

Exterior _©James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com
Exterior _©James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com

Opened in 1927, it was designed by the French architect Paul Philippe Cret. It has been completed in parts; the north and south wings were later added to the structure. This Beaux-Art, Italian Renaissance Building features two inset fountains and an expanse of white marble steps with many sculptures. Interiors include murals painted by Diego Rivera on four atrium walls and the courts inside offer a refreshing ambiance.

Interior_Travel-©Jason Mrachina/Flickr
Interior_Travel-©Jason Mrachina/Flickr

Style- Beaux-Art, Italian Renaissance
Material- Marble, Concrete, Wood
Address- 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202

Fisher Building

Bird eye view_©C J
Bird eye view_©C J

Built by Albert Kahn right before The Great Depression for the Fisher Brothers, this art deco landmark is an office building of top-class fame and a theatre within. It is infamous as Detroit’s ‘largest art object’ on account of its emphasis on verticality and upper stories. It houses a 3 story beautiful barrel-vaulted lobby which is put together with 40 varieties of marble. This structure has adornments that accentuate its outlook. Frescoes and mosaics are used by Geza R. Maroti to adorn the arcade. It is a jewel located in the middle of the city whose gold roof shines in the night sky adding to Detroit’s skyline. 

Evening Sketch_ ©www.theplatform.city/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Fisher-portrait-Nadir-Ali-1-1400x1129.jpg?w=999
Evening Sketch_ ©www.theplatform.city/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Fisher-portrait-Nadir-Ali-1-1400×1129.jpg

Style- Art Deco (Interiors and exteriors adorned with sculptural decorations)
Material- Glass, Metal, Concrete
Address- Fisher Bldg, 3011 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202
St. Anne De Detroit Catholic Church

Elevation_ ©J.T. Lambrou, July 2, 2021
Elevation_ ©J.T. Lambrou, July 2, 2021

The church was built in the 18th century and is the second oldest Roman Catholic parish in all of the US. It exhibits a gothic revival architectural style through its architectural elements like flying buttresses. On its face, there’s a landscaped grand brick plaza and the entrances are marked with four sculptural gargoyles; windows have stained glass. Altars and ceilings are a must-watch.

Evenings at Church_©Micha67
Evenings at Church_©Micha67, Buildings In Detroit

Style- Classical Revival, Late Gothic Revival (Stained glass and sculptural decorations)
Material- Brick, Limestone
Address- Fisher Bldg, 3011 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202

David Whitney House

View_©Mike Sonnenberg
View_©Mike Sonnenberg

Built in 1890, The David Whitney House is a historic mansion that was made in Romanesque revival architectural style. Its exterior is adorned with pink jasper stone with tiffany gilded windows. It houses 52 rooms and 218 windows which were built as a private residence and have now been repurposed as ‘The Whitney.’ Glazed terracotta marks this marvel and the atrium is talked of among visitors.


Style- Romanesque revival architectural style (Stained glass and sculptural decorations)
Material- Stone, Stained Glass
Address- Woodward across from Grand Circus Park, MI 48226, United States

Michigan Central Train Depot

Front façade_©Michelle & Chris Gerard
Front façade_©Michelle & Chris Gerard

An enigma of Beaux Arts beauty, this structure is covered in details, in and out. Over time this place has reconstructed its broken image into an architectural beauty with treasures of Beaux aesthetics blended in perfectly in its elements, fenestrations, palette, crevices, interiors and exteriors. Clientele being the Michigan Central Railroad was the aspect that raced the restoration. Although in 2009, this structure resurfaced after a flood and was put up for restoration which help retain its grace and glamour and still stands unhinged on 15th street.


Style- Beaux Arts
Material- Metal, RCC, Steel
Address- 2001 15th St, Detroit, MI 48216

Wayne County Building | Buildings In Detroit

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Exterior view_©Michelle Gerard

An architectural precedent exhibiting the Beaux-Arts Classicism is what we call Wayne County Building (Wayne County Courthouse). It was constructed with the most expensive materials namely Pink Granite, Marble, Tiffany Glass, Sandstone and Mahogany.  

Night view_©r/ArchitecturePorn

Style- Beaux-Arts Classicism (Adorned with copper sculptures)
Material- Pink Granite, Marble, Tiffany glass, Sandstone, Mahogany
Address- 600 Randolph Street, Detroit, MI 48226, United States

Nevertheless, it’s still not ALL! Detroit has a plethora of buildings that are yet to be recognized and rediscovered for what they are. Its architecture is second to none with a rich historical background for people to absorb the essence of its unrivaled beauty. The Architectural community as a whole needs to study Detroit for what it was, is and will be in the coming years for us to be aware of such a place full of aesthetics, art and ageless, abundant and accommodative architecture.

Reference List

Citations for websites:

Aaron Mondry. 8 day trips from Detroit for architecture fanatics

Available at https://detourdetroiter.com/8-detroit-day-trips-for-architecture-fanatics/ [14 April]

Rene Cizio. 15 Types Of Detroit Architecture Worth Seeing

Available at https://middlejourney.com/15-excellent-examples-of-detroit-architecture/ 

Robin Runyan and Aaron Mondry. Detroit’s most iconic buildings, mapped

Available at https://detroit.curbed.com/maps/most-iconic-greatest-buildings-detroit [4 Nov, 2019]

Tim Marklew. A Tour of Detroit’s Art Deco Architectural Style

Available at https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/michigan/articles/a-tour-of-detroits-art-deco-architectural-style/  [23 June 2017]


Chaos within, Beauty Beyond. She is a compulsive person who obsesses over everything, every detail she finds beautiful! She aspires to make beautiful, functional & thoughtful works to play her part well. She’s not just a human being, she is art with a keen eye for aesthetics; She bleeds through art/words.