An Art Deco Building’s Adaptive Reuse as Office Space Echoes Detroit’s Recovery

Art Deco Detroit Hamilton Anderson Associates

The core of Detroit is abuzz with new development energy. In 2013, the city gained national infamy when its leaders declared a financial emergency and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Despite the turmoil, DTE Energy, a Detroit-based diversified energy company with more than 10,000 employees, expanded its corporate campus west of the downtown business district.

The exterior’s unique Art Deco character was intact, so HAA restored the building’s front and side façades to their original appearance and added marquee lighting to highlight the structure at night.

The exterior’s unique Art Deco character was intact, so HAA restored the building’s front and side façades to their original appearance and added marquee lighting to highlight the structure at night.

Michael Decoster, associate at Detroit’s Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA) says his firm helped DTE examine its options. “They had plans to renovate their 20-story office tower, which would displace occupants floor by floor during the remodel. A 1938 Art Deco building adjacent to campus had been vacant for six years and we evaluated the feasibility of DTE acquiring the property and best use of the space,” Decoster recalls.

Visual Identity

DTE purchased the adjacent building, which had served as the Salvation Army’s home for more than 70 years. The iconic 26,000-square-foot structure has four levels (including a lower level) with a 3-story rotunda that perches over the sidewalk at the street corner.

The building had never been listed as a historic landmark, which offered HAA flexibility
in the redesign. The exterior’s unique Art Deco character was intact, however, so HAA restored the building’s front and side facades to their original appearance and added marquee lighting to highlight the structure at night.

The back facade had no glazing and faced a parking lot and street, so the team added a photovoltaic array to showcase the energy company’s mission and commitment to sustainability. At the front corner, the renovation replaced the rotunda’s tall glass block with clear, low-e coated, high-efficiency glass to create a stronger visual connection to the building’s surroundings and bring more natural light into the interior.

Interior Transformation

Numerous interior remodels had taken place over the decades. A large auditorium space dominated the first floor, and the third floor had been made into a single- resident occupancy hotel. To serve 150 employees from DTE’s information technology department, the lower level, first floor and third floor were turned into office space while the second floor/mezzanine became the break room and conference/collaborative spaces.

Because the new office space would cover four levels, HAA had to incorporate an elevator shaft for accessibility. The team examined varying places to insert an elevator and even considered putting it outside. The least expensive and least impactful option was to use the mass of the rotunda and build an elevator shaft behind it.

“We found an area in the space plan where we could insert the elevator enclosure,” Decoster describes. “There was no structural issue with the elevator’s load because we cut a hole in the first and third floor to access the lower level and second-level mezzanine, then built a block wall around to create the elevator shaft.”

The designers maintained the Art Deco lobby.

The designers maintained the Art Deco lobby.

Street access leads to a staircase that descends to the lower level or rises to the lobby. The lobby was the one interior area where many historic materials remained in top condition and HAA kept it virtually intact. The team restored the terrazzo flooring, wall tiles and decorative ceiling. An Art Deco stone carving of the Last Supper above a set of interior lobby doors was removed and returned to the Salvation Army. HAA replaced the space with a clear glass transom.

“You don’t see a lot of buildings constructed with this level of quality and de- tail,” Decoster asserts. “We tried to save and reuse viable historic features and materials whenever we could, but when it wasn’t possible we juxtaposed the historic with contemporary elements.”

PHOTOS: Justin Maconochie, Maconochie Photography

About the Author

KJ Fields

KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

1 Comment on "An Art Deco Building’s Adaptive Reuse as Office Space Echoes Detroit’s Recovery"

  1. I love the saving of any of our beautiful buildings

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