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The John Madden Building on the left and One Detroit Center on the right.
Michelle Gerard

Detroit’s postmodern architecture, mapped

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The John Madden Building on the left and One Detroit Center on the right.
| Michelle Gerard

Detroit and the greater metro area are filled with countless examples of midcentury modern architecture, whether its a downtown skyscraper designed by Minoru Yamasaki or jaw-dropping homes.

This area is lot less known, however, for its postmodern architecture—the style that eschewed the straight lines and pragmatism of its predecessor. That can largely be chalked up to the fact that Detroit did a lot less building when the movement was popular in the latter half of the 20th century.

But that doesn’t mean there are no buildings in Detroit that can be called postmodern, which is difficult to define but broadly includes exaggerated features that illicit some kind of commentary on the building or place. As the saying goes, in modernism “less is more,” but in postmodernism “less is a bore.”

This list was put together with the help of Joe Posch, owner of the Midtown store Hugh, who also ran Ecce Pomo, a postmodern popup that took place during 2019’s Detroit Month of Design.

Did we forget any postmodern buildings? Let us know in the comments section.

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One Detroit Center

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This striking building, designed by renowned architects John Burgee and Philip Johnson, is undoubtedly Detroit’s greatest example of postmodernism. Opened in 1993, the building’s most notable features are its four Neo-gothic spires pointing to the sky. At 43 stories, it’s also one of the tallest buildings in the state.

When the building was bought by Bedrock Detroit in 2015, Ally Financial became its primary tenant. It was subsequently renamed Ally Detroit Center.

Photo by Michelle Gerard

John Madden Building

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This 25-story, 500,000-square-foot downtown skyscraper designed by Heller Manus Architects opened in 1989. Sitting on the site of the old Detroit Stock Exchange Building, details from that building are still on display in the new one, such as original door panels and a carved relief of a wrestling bull and bear.

Wikimedia Commons

Blue Cross Blue Shield parking deck

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This eight-story parking garage across the street from the Renaissance Center was designed by Neumann Smith. The curved Jefferson-facing facade has punched windows which, according to the architect, “expresses the internal vehicular circulation.” Two glass elevator shafts in the front and back enhance the visual appeal of this unassuming building.

Amazingly, this parking deck won an Honor Award from AIA Michigan.

Neumann Smith

John D. Dingell VA Medical Center

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Opened in 1996, this 1.2 million-square-foot medical center servicing veterans was designed by renowned Detroit architecture firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls. The imposing facade features a variety of colors and shapes that intermingle in intriguing ways.

Veterans Health, CC BY-SA 2.0

FitnessWorks

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This New Center gym that’s part of the Henry Ford Health System is more notable for its interior than exterior. There, you’ll find an array of bold color choices and quirky design features.

Patton Recreation Center

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Sitting in a 93-acre park in southwest Detroit, this recreation center is named for General George S. Patton. With its bold forms and colors, it definitely looks postmodern, though it was first dedicated in the early 1950s before the postmodernist movement was popularized. It’s gotten several major renovations since.

To be honest, we don’t know a ton about the design and history of this building. If you’ve got info let us know and we’ll update this entry.

City of Detroit

One Detroit Center

Photo by Michelle Gerard

This striking building, designed by renowned architects John Burgee and Philip Johnson, is undoubtedly Detroit’s greatest example of postmodernism. Opened in 1993, the building’s most notable features are its four Neo-gothic spires pointing to the sky. At 43 stories, it’s also one of the tallest buildings in the state.

When the building was bought by Bedrock Detroit in 2015, Ally Financial became its primary tenant. It was subsequently renamed Ally Detroit Center.

Photo by Michelle Gerard

John Madden Building

Wikimedia Commons

This 25-story, 500,000-square-foot downtown skyscraper designed by Heller Manus Architects opened in 1989. Sitting on the site of the old Detroit Stock Exchange Building, details from that building are still on display in the new one, such as original door panels and a carved relief of a wrestling bull and bear.

Wikimedia Commons

Blue Cross Blue Shield parking deck

Neumann Smith

This eight-story parking garage across the street from the Renaissance Center was designed by Neumann Smith. The curved Jefferson-facing facade has punched windows which, according to the architect, “expresses the internal vehicular circulation.” Two glass elevator shafts in the front and back enhance the visual appeal of this unassuming building.

Amazingly, this parking deck won an Honor Award from AIA Michigan.

Neumann Smith

John D. Dingell VA Medical Center

Veterans Health, CC BY-SA 2.0

Opened in 1996, this 1.2 million-square-foot medical center servicing veterans was designed by renowned Detroit architecture firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls. The imposing facade features a variety of colors and shapes that intermingle in intriguing ways.

Veterans Health, CC BY-SA 2.0

FitnessWorks

This New Center gym that’s part of the Henry Ford Health System is more notable for its interior than exterior. There, you’ll find an array of bold color choices and quirky design features.

Patton Recreation Center

City of Detroit

Sitting in a 93-acre park in southwest Detroit, this recreation center is named for General George S. Patton. With its bold forms and colors, it definitely looks postmodern, though it was first dedicated in the early 1950s before the postmodernist movement was popularized. It’s gotten several major renovations since.

To be honest, we don’t know a ton about the design and history of this building. If you’ve got info let us know and we’ll update this entry.

City of Detroit