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The Roger Margerum House.
Matthew Piper

14 notable buildings in Detroit designed by black architects, mapped

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The Roger Margerum House.
| Matthew Piper

When you think of famous Detroit architects, the names that first come to mind tend to be Albert Kahn, Louis Kamper, George D. Mason—none of whom are black. That’s because, when Detroit was booming in the first half of the 20th century, racial and economic conditions barred black architects from securing commissions.

In the latter half of the 20th century, especially during Mayor Coleman Young’s tenure, that dynamic changed, allowing black architects to make many notable contributions to Detroit’s built environment. Several other significant buildings in development by black-led firms are currently being constructed, like at City Modern in Brush Park.

Here’s 14 great Detroit buildings designed by black architects. And be sure to read our article about the legacy of black architects in Detroit.

Note: Buildings are ordered geographically from west to east.

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Redford Branch of the Detroit Public Library

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Designed by the prolific firm of Sims-Varner and Associates, this DPL branch is noted for its “abundant natural light and pre-cast long span structural system.”

Photo by Matthew Piper

McMichael Middle School

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Formerly the McMichael Middle School (1981), what’s now the Detroit Police Training Academy has striking 45-degree angle slopes on its north and south facing walls. The building inspired Matthew Piper to write that it looks like “it might be the home of the first colony on Mars.”

It was designed by by Sims-Varner and Associates, perhaps the most prolific black-led firm in Detroit.

A long building with a slanted metal roof and skylights that stretches nearly to the ground. A few police cars sit in the parking lot. Photo by Matthew Piper

Detroit School of Arts

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Perhaps the most active black-led firm working in Detroit right now, Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA), designed this striking school in the Cass Corridor in 2005. HAA is currently working on several other high-profile commissions in the city.

Courtesy of the Knight Foundation (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

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How fitting that arguably the most architecturally significant Detroit building designed by a black firm is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (1997). It was also done by the prolific Sims-Varner and Associates. The 125,000 square-foot facility has many notable features, but is probably most known for its rotunda and high glass dome atrium.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Bethel A.M.E. Church

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Designed by Nathan Johnson, this stately church was built same year (1974) as Plymouth United Church of Christ across the street. Also like Plymouth, Bethel was forced to move to its new location after city planners decided to constructed a boulevard that cut through their previous building.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ

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Designed by the sibling architecture firm Madison and Madison, this ship-like church made of poured concrete was built in 1974 after the church was forced to vacate its previous building on Garfield Street due to the development of the Detroit Medical Center.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Flats at 124 Alfred

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The 54-unit structure was designed by Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA) was the first of five multifamily buildings at the City Modern development in Brush Park when it opened in 2019. The modern exterior has red accents and brick to match the pallet of the neighborhood’s historic mansions. It’s also the newest building on this list.

HAA is an architectural consultant for Bedrock Detroit on City Modern.

Via Cinnaire

Cobo Center

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Originally designed by Gino Rossetti and built in 1960, Sims-Varner and Associates completed a $160 million redesign in 1988 that gave the building its distinctive cascading cube facade.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Second Baptist Church of Detroit

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Churches were often some of the only organizations with resources willing to hire black architects prior to Mayor Coleman Young’s tenure. A Brutalist addition to the Second Baptist Church in Greektown was done in 1968 by Nathan Johnson, who worked on at least a dozen churches locally.

People Mover Stations

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The tenure of Coleman A. Young (1974-1994) was probably the best time to be a black architect in Detroit, as some of the most high-profile commissions were granted during his tenure. That included Nathan Johnson’s designs for the People Mover stations. He subcontracted work to other African-American architects like Aubrey Agee, Roger Margerum, and Sims-Varner.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Millender Center

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One of the more expensive buildings designed by a black firm, the mixed-use Millender Center (1985) contains 339 apartment units, ground-floor retail, and a 1,850-space parking deck. It was executed by Sims-Varner and Associates.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Detroit / Wayne County Port Authority

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Designed by Hamilton Anderson Associates, this building from 2011 sits at a prominent location on the Riverwalk, right on top of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Its extensive use of glass provides a nice thematic element with the towering Renaissance Center behind it.

Via Hamilton Anderson Associates

Golightly Career and Technical Center

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The expansive school and technical center, which houses an aerospace engineering school, was designed in 1982 by Sims-Varner and Associates. The most striking feature of the building is its atrium, whose high ceilings and sharply-inclined windows admit lots of light and a feeling of openness.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Roger Margerum House

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One of the most interesting houses in Detroit is the one Roger Margerum, an African-American architect who worked for firms in Detroit and Chicago, designed for himself in the early 2000s. Detroit Home Magazine described the house as, “essentially a cube deconstructed then reconfigured in a series of 45-degree triangles.”

Photo by Matthew Piper

Redford Branch of the Detroit Public Library

Photo by Matthew Piper

Designed by the prolific firm of Sims-Varner and Associates, this DPL branch is noted for its “abundant natural light and pre-cast long span structural system.”

Photo by Matthew Piper

McMichael Middle School

A long building with a slanted metal roof and skylights that stretches nearly to the ground. A few police cars sit in the parking lot. Photo by Matthew Piper

Formerly the McMichael Middle School (1981), what’s now the Detroit Police Training Academy has striking 45-degree angle slopes on its north and south facing walls. The building inspired Matthew Piper to write that it looks like “it might be the home of the first colony on Mars.”

It was designed by by Sims-Varner and Associates, perhaps the most prolific black-led firm in Detroit.

A long building with a slanted metal roof and skylights that stretches nearly to the ground. A few police cars sit in the parking lot. Photo by Matthew Piper

Detroit School of Arts

Courtesy of the Knight Foundation (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Perhaps the most active black-led firm working in Detroit right now, Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA), designed this striking school in the Cass Corridor in 2005. HAA is currently working on several other high-profile commissions in the city.

Courtesy of the Knight Foundation (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Photo by Matthew Piper

How fitting that arguably the most architecturally significant Detroit building designed by a black firm is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (1997). It was also done by the prolific Sims-Varner and Associates. The 125,000 square-foot facility has many notable features, but is probably most known for its rotunda and high glass dome atrium.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Bethel A.M.E. Church

Google Street View

Designed by Nathan Johnson, this stately church was built same year (1974) as Plymouth United Church of Christ across the street. Also like Plymouth, Bethel was forced to move to its new location after city planners decided to constructed a boulevard that cut through their previous building.

Google Street View

Plymouth United Church of Christ

Photo by Matthew Piper

Designed by the sibling architecture firm Madison and Madison, this ship-like church made of poured concrete was built in 1974 after the church was forced to vacate its previous building on Garfield Street due to the development of the Detroit Medical Center.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Flats at 124 Alfred

Via Cinnaire

The 54-unit structure was designed by Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA) was the first of five multifamily buildings at the City Modern development in Brush Park when it opened in 2019. The modern exterior has red accents and brick to match the pallet of the neighborhood’s historic mansions. It’s also the newest building on this list.

HAA is an architectural consultant for Bedrock Detroit on City Modern.

Via Cinnaire

Cobo Center

Photo by Matthew Piper

Originally designed by Gino Rossetti and built in 1960, Sims-Varner and Associates completed a $160 million redesign in 1988 that gave the building its distinctive cascading cube facade.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Second Baptist Church of Detroit

Churches were often some of the only organizations with resources willing to hire black architects prior to Mayor Coleman Young’s tenure. A Brutalist addition to the Second Baptist Church in Greektown was done in 1968 by Nathan Johnson, who worked on at least a dozen churches locally.

People Mover Stations

Photo by Matthew Piper

The tenure of Coleman A. Young (1974-1994) was probably the best time to be a black architect in Detroit, as some of the most high-profile commissions were granted during his tenure. That included Nathan Johnson’s designs for the People Mover stations. He subcontracted work to other African-American architects like Aubrey Agee, Roger Margerum, and Sims-Varner.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Millender Center

Photo by Matthew Piper

One of the more expensive buildings designed by a black firm, the mixed-use Millender Center (1985) contains 339 apartment units, ground-floor retail, and a 1,850-space parking deck. It was executed by Sims-Varner and Associates.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Detroit / Wayne County Port Authority

Via Hamilton Anderson Associates

Designed by Hamilton Anderson Associates, this building from 2011 sits at a prominent location on the Riverwalk, right on top of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Its extensive use of glass provides a nice thematic element with the towering Renaissance Center behind it.

Via Hamilton Anderson Associates

Golightly Career and Technical Center

Photo by Matthew Piper

The expansive school and technical center, which houses an aerospace engineering school, was designed in 1982 by Sims-Varner and Associates. The most striking feature of the building is its atrium, whose high ceilings and sharply-inclined windows admit lots of light and a feeling of openness.

Photo by Matthew Piper

Roger Margerum House

Photo by Matthew Piper

One of the most interesting houses in Detroit is the one Roger Margerum, an African-American architect who worked for firms in Detroit and Chicago, designed for himself in the early 2000s. Detroit Home Magazine described the house as, “essentially a cube deconstructed then reconfigured in a series of 45-degree triangles.”

Photo by Matthew Piper