The ‘Paris of Midwest’, the ‘Motor City’ Detroit of Michigan, USA was founded in the year 1706 by the French trader Antoine de la Mothe. Due to its rapid industrialization in the automotive industry, it is very uncommon knowledge that Detroit was esteemed as the ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO in 2015. 

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Detroit skyline_©Linda Goodhue Photography

The city has been a boon to the whole world today as it invented urban freeways, road lines, and the three-coloured traffic signal. Owing to its massive cultural history, Detroit is a repository for architecture and design. 

With its discernible skyline of buildings from gothic to art deco style of architecture, Detroit has a colossal bevy of 19th and 20th-century buildings and is a splendid magnet for architects.

Here are the 15 places you should visit in Detroit:

1. GM Renaissance Centre

Designed by Josh Portman, the Renaissance Center is a cluster of seven connected skyscrapers, of which six are 39-story offices while the seventh is a 73-story hotel rising from the centre. 

The complex portrays brutalist interiors (of concrete) and modern architectural style exteriors (of glass). The Renaissance centre’s cylindrically designed hotel is linked to the other towers with ringed glass walkways. Albeit its renovation in 2004, it majestically defines Detroit’s skyline.

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GM Renaissane Centre_©GENSLER
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Wintergarden II A at the hotel tower_©Mark D. Hellekjaer
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Lobby of the Renaissance Center in Exposed Concrete_©Reddit

2. Fox Theatre

Built in 1928 in the glorious art deco style architecture, this performing arts theatre with a seating capacity of around 5000 is one of the biggest in the world through time. The intricate ornate ornamentation combined with the mechanical services made this theatre stand out as an instance of advancement. 

Also, the theatre has the most extensive clear-span balcony in the world. The Fox theatre exemplifies the late-twentieth-century opulence and grandeur.

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Balcony View_©John Clark
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Fox Theatre at Night_©Stephanie Hume
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View from the Balcony_©Greg Klumpers

3. Campus Martius Park

When the 1805 fire destroyed much of Detroit, Campus Martius was designated as the origin point for all new roads and lots. With bleak urbanization, Campus Martius Park was envisioned as a point of revitalization in 1999. The 1.6-acre park features grassy lawns, gravel walkways, and informal seating for over 2,000 people along walls, benches, steps, and moveable chairs. 

With retractable stages, ice-skating rinks, and cafes, the Campus Martius Park attracts people all time of the year and is a dominant node for the city.

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Campus Martius Park_©Giffels Webster
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Outdoor seating at Campus Martius Park_©Nathan Weber
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Christmas Tree Lighting_©Campus Martius Park

4. Fisher Building

Designed to accommodate a house office and retail space by Albert Kahn and Associates, the Fisher building is an ornate skyscraper of Detroit. The Art Deco style building known as ‘Detroit’s Largest Object’ is decked to the nines in fancy marbles, mosaics, soaring, painted ceilings, and a whole lot of brass and bronze. 

Its wall surfaces were recessed to break the monotonous window façade. The Fisher Building is decked marvellously with more than 40 kinds of marble from all around the world with colours ranging from white and pink to black.

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Fisher Building_©Ken
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Colorful frescoes arch over the ceiling of the three-story arcade_©Matthieu Lévesque
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Interior of Fisher Building_©Király Seth

5. The Guardian Building

Another dauntless example of art-deco architecture, the Guardian building was deemed as a National Historic Landmark in 1929. Sheathed in tangerine-coloured Guardian Bricks, the building’s interior is contrastingly ornate as compared to the building’s exterior. 

The three-storeyed vaulted lobby clad in geometrical patterns of travertine and marble has an excellent acoustical sound absorbing space. The stained glasses and golden leaf adorned arches engender the rays of the sunbursts to spread from the centre of the ceiling down along the columns.

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The Guardian Building_©Andrew Jameson
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Lobby of the Guardian Building_©DPA
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Lobby of the Guardian Building_©James Haefner

6. Detroit Opera House

Been designed three times earlier, and the fourth time in the 1990s, the Detroit Opera House is one of the most acoustically perfect theatres built. Fashioned in the Italian renaissance style, the theatre’s interior is laden with an imposing promenade, large crystal chandeliers, a grand marble staircase, lavish carpeting, walls adorned with elegant murals, and original oil paintings. 

As for the building’s exterior, architect Crane designed two facades in the same style but with different materials. The dominant façade on the busier Broadway street is in the Beaux-Arts style and is embellished with white glazed terra cotta alongside colossal Corinthian columns. The other façade on Madison street is bedecked with red brick and terracotta trim.

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Detroit Opera House_©Sarah Kossuch
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Detroit Opera House Beaux-Arts style facade_©Mike Russell
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Detroit Opera House seating area_©Geoffery Goldberg

7. The Masonic Temple

The temple’s classically Gothic architecture and Indiana limestone bedecked facade offer it the impression of massive medieval castles from the old world. The spaces in the building have been grouped into three major divisions: the ritualistic tower, the auditorium, and the Shrine Club. 

The Masonic Temple houses ten Blue Lodge rooms all of them have distinct accentuated treatments, with motifs derived from Egyptian, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Gothic, and Romanesque architecture. The composite has not been used in either of these rooms, which are all true to the period. 

All of the artwork in the building, notably the ornately decorated ceilings, was developed under the supervision of well-known Italian artists.

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Masonic Temple Theatre_©Rod Arroyo
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Chapel at the Detroit Masonic Temple _©Roel Paulme
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The  Masonic Temple _©Raymond Boyd

8. The Detroit Athletic Club

Modelled after the inspiration from Roman palazzos, the seven-storeyed edifice of the Detroit Athletic Club was designed by the renowned architect Albert Kahn. The impact of this century-old structure’s exterior is wholly reliant on the window and door openings, the material used (Bedford limestone), and the potent cut stone cornice. 

There are three distinct sections to the club: The grand entrance hall, billiard room, and lounging room used for social events on the first and second floors. The third and fourth floors were constituted with athletics in mind, and the fourth-floor swimming pool was the first of its kind when it was built, and it is still in use today. 

The top floors were originally intended to be residential, but they now house a cigar room, meeting rooms, a cafe. Also, the rooftop plaza of the club provides a view of the thriving metropolitan area.

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Detroit Athletic Club _©Brandon Bartoszek
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Exterior of Detroit Athletic Club_©Detroit Athletic Club
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Lobby of Detroit Athletic Club _©Kevin Miyazaki

9. Penobscot building

With an Art Deco influence, the Penobscot building was a potent symbol of Detroit’s industrial paramount. The most visually striking but culturally divergent elements are pulled together to fulfil the notions of Indianness in a generic “Indian” theme of the building.

 A four-storeyed entrance archway with an Indian motif on top, renders the building imposing. Many of the friezes and other high-quality decorations in granite pay homage to the Penobscot Indians, after whom the structure is named.

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Penobscot Building_©Mandi Wright
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Four-storeyed entrance archway of Penobscot Building_©Joe Braun 
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Head of Penobscot Building_©Steve Brown

10. Wayne County Building

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the Wayne County Courthouse is with a significant indication of Roman Baroque architecture, with a melange of Beaux-Arts and neoclassical architectural elements. The large rectangular plan of the building is punctured with two rectangular courtyards that provide light and ventilation to the structure. Sedentary atop a two-story base of rusticated Eastern granite, the courthouse is fashioned of Berea sandstone. 

Smoother and darker in appearance, the sandstone contrasts with the lighter colour and rougher texture of the granite at the base. A detailed cornice and balustrade between the fourth and fifth floors distinguish the shaft of the building from the entablature.

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Wayne County Courthouse_©Michael Barera
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Wayne County Courthouse Staircase-Stained Glass Window_©Alanna St. Laurent
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_Wayne County Courthouse Front Doors_©Alanna St. Laurent

11. The Detroit Institute of Arts

Erected in the 1920s in the Beaux-Arts style, the Detroit Institute of Arts is the fifth largest museum in the United States. The Institute houses a museum, a theatre, and other public amenities such as food service, gift shop, and an education centre. 

The building’s edifice is cladded in Danby marble while the north and south wings were originally adorned in black granite to provide a contrast to the white marble structure. Even though the galleries of the museum have been modernized, its historic fabric has been preserved.

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The Detroit Institute of Arts_©Scripps Media, Inc
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Hall between old and new sections_©Andrew Jameson
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The Great Hall_©Detroit Institute of Arts

12. David Whitney House

Erected in the 1890s, the David Whitney House was a private house of David Whitney Jr. The massive, gabled, round-arched, and turreted house attains a between the Gothic style’s picturesqueness and the Romanesque style’s solidity. 

The historic mansion with exterior walls of purplish-pink quartzite stone, the house contains 42 rooms, 218 stained glass windows crafted by New York’s Tiffany, and 20 fireplaces of different marbles or onyx. It was the first private residence in Detroit to have a personal hydraulic elevator. The grand hall and stairwell added to the grandiose of the mansion.

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The Whitney House_©Jason Mrachina
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Fireplace at Whitney House_©Tudor ApMadoc
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Stairwell and Tiffany-stained glass windows at David Whitney House_© Tudor ApMadoc

13. Hart Plaza

The Hart Plaza is a 14-acre outdoor public space in Detroit designed by Japanese-American landscape architect and designer Isamu Noguchi. The Plaza is based on the concept of blending by intermingling performance space with gathering space, and by introducing sculpture to an urban landscape. 

The monumental abstract aluminium and steel sculpture by Noguchi, known as the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, emerges above a bubbling circular fountain spraying water from its ring in computerized dispositions and providing a converging point for the pedestrians in this urban space. Summer festivals and winter ice skating draw large crowds to a large amphitheatre near the fountain. 

The Plaza includes a Veterans Memorial Hall and the Detroit International River Walk, which will eventually stretch from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle.

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Detroit Hart Plaza_©Brian Cassidy
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The Transcending Monument Towers_©Robert Levy
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The many levels and winding paths of Hart Plaza_©Michelle Gerard

14. Old St. Mary’s Church

Completed in 1885, the architecture of the Old St. Mary’s church is a mix of Pisan Romanesque and Venetian Renaissance styles. Made of red bricks, the west façade of St. Mary’s features twin towers that surround a large rose window. There are four bells in the church towers, three of which are in the north tower. 

The ten polished granite columns that divide the main and side aisles are one of Old St. Mary’s most amazing architectural features. Its Lourdes Grotto is equally lovely, with embedded shells and magnificent candles. In 1979, St. Mary’s was added to the Michigan Historic Sites list.

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Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Detroit, Michigan_©Steve Brown
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Inside Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church_©Steve Brown
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Rose Windows Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church_©Mark D. Hellekjaer

15. Detroit Riverfront

One of the most recent gems of this architecturally jeweled city, the Detroit riverfront has reinvigorated the city’s otherwise mundane waterfront. The esplanade tells a story about the life and times of the Detroit River and how it shaped the city through artwork, ornamental pavings, native landscape, and other amenities. 

Beautiful landscapes with seasonal plantings, four pavilion/plaza areas, a custom carousel, and ample space for fishing, walking, biking, and inline skating attract visitors who stay for the story. 

The project has helped preserve the city’s cultural and architectural identity with its interventions spread around classic buildings such as the Renaissance Centre and the Guardian building by filling in the city’s critically inadequate urban fabric while retaining the best of what it already has.

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Detroit Riverfront_©Maurice Williams
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Water Spouts at Detroit Riverfront_©Tricia J
Detroit Riverfront at Night_©Roving Drone

References

  1. Architect (2019). Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan. [online] Architectmagazine.com. Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/detroit-east-riverfront-framework-plan_o [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].
  2. AUSTIN, D. (2017). Guardian Building | Historic Detroit. [online] www.historicdetroit.org. Available at: https://www.historicdetroit.org/buildings/guardian-building.
  3. Austin, D. (2017). Fisher Building | Historic Detroit. [online] Historicdetroit.org. Available at: https://historicdetroit.org/buildings/fisher-building [Accessed 20 Mar. 2021].
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  5. Bridenstine, S. (2004). Drawing on Indians: The Penobscot Building. [online] Drawing on Indians. (Last updated: June 28, 2010). Available at: http://drawingonindians.blogspot.com/2010/06/penobscot-building.html [Accessed 22 Mar. 2021].
  6. Cindy (17AD). Detroit’s Guardian Building. [online] www.artandarchitecture-sf.com. Available at: https://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/detroits-guardian-building.html [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].
  7. Detroit Historical Society (n.d.). Hart Plaza | Detroit Historical Society. [online] detroithistorical.org. Available at: https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/hart-plaza [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].
  8. Detroit Historical Society (n.d.). Penobscot Building | Detroit Historical Society. [online] detroithistorical.org. Available at: https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/penobscot-building [Accessed 22 Mar. 2021].
  9. Detroit Historical Society (n.d.). Wayne County Courthouse | Detroit Historical Society. [online] detroithistorical.org. Available at: https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/wayne-county-courthouse [Accessed 22 Mar. 2021].
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  15. Jameson, A. (2008). David Whitney House. [online] Wikipedia. (Last updated: 16 January 2021). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Whitney_House [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].
  16. Michael Graves Architecture and Design (n.d.). The Detroit Institute of Arts – Renovation, Expansion, Historic Preservation. [online] Michael Graves Architecture & Design. Available at: https://www.michaelgraves.com/projects/the-detroit-institute-of-arts/ [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].
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  18. Mixon, I. (2019). The unsung brilliance of Hart Plaza. [online] Curbed Detroit. Available at: https://detroit.curbed.com/2019/10/31/20941701/hart-plaza-isamu-noguchi-downtown-detroit [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].
  19. Old St. Mary’s Church. (n.d.). History, Architecture, and Events in Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit. [online] Available at: http://oldstmarysdetroit.com/history-architecture-events-old-st-marys-church-detroit/ [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].
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Author

An architecture student who is a besotted reader and believes that writing is for the soul. She is always receptive and surmises that learning is growing which is fuelled by her fascinated for history, travel, architecture and literature.

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