I recently ran across an old Detroit Free Press (October 27, 1991) article about unbuilt architecture projects in downtown Detroit. Written by John Gallagher (still writing about architecture) and illustrated by Dick Rochon (later known as Richard), who has produced many architectural renderings over the years. If you can find one, take a look at a hand drawn rendering of Detroit architecture the next time you see one. Chances are it’s one if Rochon’s.
I won’t present you with all the buildings – it’s more fun to piece the bits of history together for yourself, but I will present a few of my favorites though.
The first few projects were canceled due to the Great Depression during the 1920’s.
- Fisher Building (Albert Kahn) – Everyone is familiar with today’s Fisher Building, but did you know that what you see today is actually one of three towers that the Fisher Family planned to construct? The original plan would have occupied the entire block from 2nd to 3rd along West Grand Boulevard and consists of a large 60-story tower flanked by two smaller towers. Only the smaller eastern most tower was built before the Great Depression.
- Hart Plaza (Eliel Saarinen) -What you see today are only bits and pieces of his original plan which also included a soaring tower, domed memorial hall, and an exposition hall & convention center. This project was approved by voters, but the Great Depression made it difficult (impossible?) to actually obtain the money.
- Book Tower (Louis Kamper) – The Book Family, who had already built the Book Building and the Book-Cadillac, had plans for a third even grander tower. They had plans for a 70-story building that would have been the tallest building in Detroit, until the RenCen came along in the 70’s.
The next major project was the Renaissance Center (John Portman) in the 1970’s. If you can believe it, the overall plan was much more elaborate and included at least six more towers, another hotel, and a residential complex along the Detroit River. However, the initial stages of the building saturated the market and the remaining towers were never built (Thankfully).
Even during the 1990’s there were a couple notable buildings that were proposed but never built.
- Comerica Tower (Cesar Pelli) – In 1990, Pelli worked with Comerica Bank to design new headquarters building. The plan included demolishing the Ford Auditorium which generated tremendous public outcry (at the time) and the project was eventually cancelled.
- Two Detroit Center (John Burgee & Phillip Johnson) – At the time of the article, One Detroit Center was under construction and plans were in place to create an identical twin tower to the east. Softening market conditions put the second tower on indefinite hold. A parking deck currently occupies the site. One Detroit Center, now known as Comerica Tower, remains the last skyscraper built in the city.
Other plans that didn’t get built:
- Riverfront Park – Ok, this one did get built, but at the time of the article, it was noted that architects had long championed a park from Downtown to Belle Isle. City planners had placed more priority on expanding the tax base rather than creating public land. Gallagher predicted that the riverfront would likely see commercial development rather than the development of parkland.
- Woodward Mall – Responding to the suburbs innovative (not my word) plans to redevelop their downtowns, a local architect responded by designing a glass canopy for Woodward Avenue with a pedestrian plaza underneath. Federal grant money that was anticipated for this project was never awarded and the project was, thankfully, canceled.
If you’d like to read the entire article it’s available for viewing online [ via Scribd ]. You will need to register if you want to download it.
Also, if you know of any recent unbuilt projects, please drop us a line. I’d love to publicize more of them. I’m particularly interested in any projects that involve anything on the riverfront, like new convention center locations (not on the riverfront? – I know it’s out there), lowering Jefferson Avenue downtown (The not so Big Dig), and relocating JLA to create more space for Hart Plaza.