Hometown Heroes pix
Native Detroit-ers Douglas McIntosh and Michael Poris are leading the city's preservation push
Henry Amick -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The former headquarters of Eureka, the vacuum manufacturer, in downtown Detroit was built in 1917 by Beckett & Akitt and abandoned in 1945.
McIntosh Poris Associates's Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, a nonprofit arts community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is housed in Albert Kahn's 1911 building, which used to be western Michigan's first car dealership.
A 1920's industrial building is now 4731 Gallery, featuring artists' studios, classrooms, and exhibition space.
MPA has restored and converted the five-story Eureka building into a mixed-use development with a ground-floor bistro, Small Plates, and four floors of residential lofts.
MPA is converting the Wardell Hotel, built in 1926 by Weston & Ellington, into the Park Shelton residential condominiums.
A model unit in the Park Shelton.
The terra-cotta and limestone exterior of Panacea nightclub, which was originally a 1924 bank building.
For the club's interior, MPA retained the concrete structural columns and the second-floor perimeter arcade and bank manager's office.
Some heavy hitters in architecture and design have left their mark, albeit a long time ago, in the Motor City and surrounding areas of Michigan. From the early 1900's to the 1960's, Albert Kahn, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Minoru Yamasaki, to name a few, erected buildings that today are still standing. Abandoned and decrepit, architects Douglas McIntosh and Michael Poris are spearheading the restoration of these historic structures while simultaneously reviving downtown Detroit.
"Detroit was essentially put on ice after the 1960's," says McIntosh, coprincipal of McIntosh Poris Associates. "There was little development or demolition, and we've been left with buildings that embody exceptional style, form, and craftsmanship."
Over the past decade, the firm has made a career out of preserving the city. The process began in 1994, when McIntosh relocated from New Haven, where he'd founded his own firm, to his hometown of Detroit. He called upon childhood friend Poris to leave Los Angeles, where he'd been working for Morphosis, Frank Gehry, and Richard Meier, to come home, too, and form what's now MPA. The two had not only grown up together but also had studied and worked together: They both attended the University of Michigan and were afterward employed by Cesar Pelli. With their history, coupled with a joint desire to create livable urban communities and an insider knowledge of Detroit, McIntosh and Poris saw possibilities in the castaway industrial metropolis. And, as a small, young firm, they possessed the nimbleness to do it.
"The key is to keep buildings occupied," explains Poris, who's on the board of directors at SCI-Arc, his graduate-school alma mater. "The significant buildings of the early 1900's are abandoned and thus deemed eyesores. Occupy them, and they'll be revered." One such building is the Eureka. Built in 1917 by Beckett & Akitt, its five stories were the headquarters of the vacuum-cleaner manufacturer until the company relocated to Bloomington, Illinois, in 1945. It was bought in 1999 by the Larson Realty Group, which signed MPA to handle the building's restoration and conversion into an adaptive mixed-used site.
Completed in 2003, Eureka's 10,000 square feet now house a bustling ground-floor bistro, Small Plates, and four 2,000-square-foot residential lofts on the upper floors. Among the procedures performed by MPA were the refurbishing of the terra-cotta exterior, stripping the interiors to expose original beams and pipes, and extending the bistro's glass facade to reveal original oak flooring. The project was awarded the 2004 Building Award by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. "It demonstrates that through sound preservation principles, the rehabilitation of existing building stock can revitalize urban cores and preserve our cultural heritage," says Steven Jones, MHPN awards chairman and principal of Quinn Evans Architects, of Eureka.
The Park Shelton is another of the firm's restoration-conversion mixed-use projects. Originally built as the Wardell Hotel by Weston & Ellington in 1926, the building had undergone modifications that were unsympathetic to its beaux arts revival architecture. Scheduled for completion in September, MPA's $15 million renovation will include restoring the lobby to its original glamour; designing 220 residential units, a rooftop community area, and a six-story parking facility; and improving retail storefronts.
Reflecting downtown Detroit's vibrant nightlife, a 1924 bank building—not far from Yamasaki's 1962 Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building—is now Panacea, a 5,500-square-foot neon-infused nightclub completed in 2001. In addition to restoring the Moorish revival terra-cotta and limestone exterior, MPA bridged the old and the new by retaining the former bank manager's office to accommodate DJ's and lighting technicians. The amalgamation won a citation from the AIA.
MPA's restoration effort has extended outside Detroit to Grand Rapids with the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. UICA, a nonprofit organization, was in need of a permanent home to support its innovative arts community. Albert Kahn's 28,000-square-foot, two-level structure, built in 1911 as Western Michigan's first car dealership, provided the flexible environment that UICA was looking for. MPA teamed up with the Smith Group from Ann Arbor as well as with artists, UICA members, and its board to design a site that reflects UICA's mission of cross-cultural dialogue and artistic exploration. The $2.75 million project yielded a gloriously open ground floor with galleries, administrative offices, a library, kitchen, boardroom, and instruction areas; the discovery of original trussed skylights; a double-height auditorium; the salvaging of Kahn's brick walls and terrazzo and concrete floors; and an AIA Michigan Honor Award in 2001.
MPA is joined by other local designers in the restoration movement. Hamilton Anderson Associates is converting the 1905 Addison Hotel into apartments. Kraemer Design Group has turned part of the early 1900's Hartz Building into Detroit Beer Co. PEG Office of Landscape + Architecture's underground Centre Street Multimedia Lounge speaks to both the past and the present of the city's legendary nightlife.
Currently on the boards for MPA is Detroit's Lafayette Park, an urban community developed in the late 1950's by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. MPA is adding 30 new townhouses and updating the existing retail center. But the principals remain committed to minimal intervention. Says Poris, "The real art of preservation is in what you don't do as much what you do."