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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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1. Redford Branch of the Detroit Public Library

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21200 Grand River Ave
Detroit, MI 48219
(313) 481-1820
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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

2. McMichael Middle School

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6050 Linwood St
Detroit, MI 48208
(313) 494-2651
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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

3. Detroit School of Arts

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123 Selden St
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 494-6000
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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)

4. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

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315 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 494-5800
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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

5. Bethel A.M.E. Church

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5050 St Antoine St
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 831-8810
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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.

Google Street View

6. Plymouth United Church of Christ

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600 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 831-2460
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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

7. Flats at 124 Alfred

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124 Alfred St
Detroit, MI 48201

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

8. Cobo Center

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1 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 877-8777
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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

9. Second Baptist Church of Detroit

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441 Monroe St
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 961-0920
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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.

10. 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

11. 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

12. Detroit / Wayne County Port Authority

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130 Atwater St
Detroit, MI 48226

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

13. Golightly Career and Technical Center

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900 Dickerson Ave
Detroit, MI 48215

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

14. Roger Margerum House

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430 Kitchener St
Detroit, MI 48215

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

1. Redford Branch of the Detroit Public Library

21200 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48219
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.”

21200 Grand River Ave
Detroit, MI 48219

2. McMichael Middle School

6050 Linwood St, Detroit, MI 48208
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.

6050 Linwood St
Detroit, MI 48208

3. Detroit School of Arts

123 Selden St, Detroit, MI 48201
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.

123 Selden St
Detroit, MI 48201

4. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
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.

315 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

5. Bethel A.M.E. Church

5050 St Antoine St, Detroit, MI 48202
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.

5050 St Antoine St
Detroit, MI 48202

6. Plymouth United Church of Christ

600 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
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.

600 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

7. Flats at 124 Alfred

124 Alfred St, Detroit, MI 48201
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.

124 Alfred St
Detroit, MI 48201

8. Cobo Center

1 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226
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.

1 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

9. Second Baptist Church of Detroit

441 Monroe St, Detroit, MI 48226

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.

441 Monroe St
Detroit, MI 48226

10. People Mover Stations

Detroit, MI 48226
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.

11. Millender Center

Detroit, MI 48226
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.

12. Detroit / Wayne County Port Authority

130 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48226
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.

130 Atwater St
Detroit, MI 48226

13. Golightly Career and Technical Center

900 Dickerson Ave, Detroit, MI 48215
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.

900 Dickerson Ave
Detroit, MI 48215

14. Roger Margerum House

430 Kitchener St, Detroit, MI 48215
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.”

430 Kitchener St
Detroit, MI 48215