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Suggestions for Dan Gilbert: How Not to Ruin an Iconic Yamasaki High Rise

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Meet a Curbed Detroit contributor: architecture critic Kelly Ellsworth. From time to time, she brings us detailed arguments about local development, buildings, marketing? or whatever else strikes her fancy. And she's quite fancy.

If you read the news, and we know you do, then you heard the rumor that Dan Gilbert is continuing his downtown real estate buying spree. This time he's apparently eyeballing the foot of Woodward, the Minoru Yamasaki-designed skyscraper One Woodward Avenue.

Of all the modernist buildings in town, Yamasaki's first highrise is by far the most significant. Constructed around the same time as the highrises in Lafayette Park (the Towers being other significant modernist structures currently up for grabs), it led the way to new stylistic ground while the Mies buildings followed in the footsteps of their older siblings in Chicago. And of course its location at Woodward and Jefferson is one of the highest profile spots in the region.

But even thrown in with the rest of the building stock in Detroit, this one stands out. We're no longer just talking excellent buildings with prime locations like the First National or the National Bank of Detroit buildings. I'd easily put it on a level with the Guardian Building and the Penobscot Building in terms of outstanding designs of their era that really define downtown.

Now if you've read some of my previous pieces, you know I've been mildly critical of the aesthetic decisions made by the Gilbert team – both already executed as well as planned for the future. Bottom line: I don't get the impression that this group spends a lot of time thinking about the architectural heritage of the buildings they acquire. So it will come as no shock when I tell you I actually screamed "NO!" when I first saw the Crain's report about this.

I was going to rant about it all again and then I stopped to think – hey, maybe they know what they're getting? Maybe I could just offer a little list of suggestions and they'll read it (and don't be coy guys, I know you'll read it) and maybe they'll take a conservative approach and burnish this building without undermining all the things that make it iconic Yamasaki?

First of all, I hope they respect the design of the ground floor. Yamasaki managed to talk the MichCon bosses out of putting a gas appliance showroom in the lobby, and in fact even managed to get them to put the newsstand on the lower level – all in the interest of creating a dramatic, understated and uncluttered base for the building. It's worked really well for fifty years, why change it up now?

I know Quicken is hot to build out the colonnade on the NBD Building (aka The Qube), and I won't belabor why I think that is a mistake again. But extending the lobby of One Woodward by building out the loggia would be an absolute catastrophe. I know these guys are anxious to restore ground floor retail to downtown and might need the space to accommodate the hundreds of proposals they've received, but at the very least maybe they can take a wait-and-see approach to this one?

Secondly, what about restoring the reflecting pools in front? Those weren't originally designed to be planters, although if you have to empty out a leaky pool it's not a bad adaptation. But there should be ways to fix the leaks that sprung in the eighties, and talk about a dramatic and amazing way to show off your building! And I promise in advance I won't utter a peep about the color of the water if you do this.

Take down that awful pedestrian bridge that connects to the Guardian Building. That eighties addition does neither building any favors. If you decide to keep it, what about putting in that bar those kids were trying to get going a couple years ago? Or even an upper floor coffee shop? That'd be a pretty great place to hang out and work on a laptop.

Some of those interior spaces might be worth hanging on to as well. There used to be a lovely Thai restaurant called Top of the Flame on the 26th floor. Without the byzantine RenCen to navigate perhaps an upper-floor restaurant with a view could be a popular nightspot? And the executive offices on the 25th floor are pretty swank, at least judging from the pictures Kraemer Design Group took last week. Marble fireplaces, gorgeous wood paneling ? maybe those interiors don't need to be jazzed up to the level we've seen in some of the other Quicken buildings?

Lastly, let's remember that this building was a design lab for what later became Yamasaki's World Trade Center twin towers in New York City. It has cultural significance far beyond the borders of Detroit. In fact, the rumor of the sale of this building emerging so close to 9/11 is exactly what made me think we might see a softer touch by Quicken on this latest acquisition.

This wouldn't be Gilbert's first Yamasaki purchase, by the way. The annex to the Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street was a much earlier design by the architect. It is a modest building from the exterior, thoughtful but lacking the brilliance shown in One Woodward. I might suggest that any impulse to molest a Yamasaki building be exercised there.

There you have it, a few simple requests. Who said I'm always a raging bitch? It really all boils down to this: One Woodward is a building to respect. Make it the best it can be by letting it be what it is.

· One Woodward Ave [HistoricDetroit.org]
· Kelly Ellsworth Takes on Detroit Preservation, Or Lack Thereof [Curbed Detroit]
·All Previous posts by Kelly Ellsworth [Curbed Detroit]
· Some Say Dan Gilbert Has A Contract To Buy One Woodward Ave [Curbed Detroit]

One Woodward

1 Woodward Avenue, , MI 48226