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The exterior of the Penobscot Building in Detroit. The facade is white with multiple windows.
The Penobscot Building
Michelle & Chris Gerard

Detroit’s most iconic buildings, mapped

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The Penobscot Building
| Michelle & Chris Gerard

When you think of Detroit architecture, which buildings come to mind? Which are instantly recognizable? Which buildings stand out in the skyline? Which ones do visitors flock to? These might not be your favorite, or the most beautiful (or maybe they are), but they define a city.

Many of these buildings are heavily used (Cobo Center, the RenCen, the Detroit Institute of Arts), while others came back from the brink (Book Cadillac, the Fox Theatre, the Grand Army of the Republic Building), and others are going through a restoration (Michigan Central Station, the Book Tower).

Here are the 20 most iconic buildings in Detroit.

Note: Buildings are listed from west to east.

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1. Michigan Central Train Depot

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2001 15th St
Detroit, MI 48216

It was once the most iconic example of blight. In a few years, it may be an iconic national example of redevelopment.

The last train rolled through Michigan Central Station in 1988, and for years after, vandals scrapped it. But 2018 was a historic year for the Beaux Arts beauty; Ford purchased the depot and plans to make it a centerpiece of its Corktown campus. Plans include local retail and restaurants on the main level, which will be open to the public.

2. Fisher Building

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Fisher Bldg, 3011 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48202

“Detroit’s largest art object.” Built right before the Great Depression, this Art Deco masterpiece continues to dazzle visitors. Albert Kahn designed it for the Fisher Brothers in what would be known as New Center, or a second downtown. More than 40 different kinds of marble were used, and the arcade is adorned with frescoes and mosaics designed by Geza R. Maroti. At night, its gold roof serves as a sort-of beacon in the skyline. We’re truly lucky to have such a work of art right in the middle of the city.

3. McGregor Memorial Conference Center

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495 Gilmour Mall
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 577-2400
Visit Website

One of the most serene buildings in the city stands in the middle of the expansive Wayne State campus. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki in 1958, the McGregor Memorial Conference Center is one of the most beautiful buildings in Detroit. Inside, a geometric patterned skylight frames an open, airy interior. Outside, a peaceful reflecting pool welcomes visitors.

The exterior of the McGregor Memorial Conference Center. There is a large glass skylight over the entrance. In front of the building is a pool and various sculptures. Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

4. Old Main

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4841 Cass Ave
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 577-3508
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Designed by Malcomson and Higginbotham in 1896, the Romanesque Revival Old Main was first built as Central High School. It officially became the Main Building on Wayne State’s campus in 1926, as the college (soon to be university) grew and Central moved across town. It received a historical marker in 1958 and still stands as the most recognizable building on the university’s campus.

The exterior of Old Main at Wayne State University in Detroit. The building has a yellow facade with towers and a flagpole with a United States flag. There are trees and a courtyard in front of the building. Photo by By JKPhotogenic, Shutterstock

5. Detroit Institute of Arts

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5200 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 833-7900
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The Beaux-Arts building at Woodward and Kirby is the second home to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Opened in 1927, the original building was designed by the French-born architect Paul Philippe Cret. Wings to the north and south were later added in the middle of the century. And soon its Woodward-facing plaza will get a major redesign.

Inside, the “Detroit Industry” murals painted by Diego Rivera covers four atrium walls and depicts the Ford Rouge Factory workers, plus science, medicine, and technology. The gorgeous Kresge Court offers a light-filled place for refreshments and rest.

The exterior of the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The building has a white brick facade with columns. There are two flagpoles in front of the building with flags. Photo by James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com

6. Charles H. Wright Museum

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315 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 494-5800
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The black-led architecture firm Sims-Varner and Associates, which was incredibly active in the second-half of the 20th century, designed this iconic museum that opened in 1997. The 125,000 square-foot facility has many praiseworthy features, but is probably most known for its rotunda and high glass dome atrium.

Photo by Michelle Gerard

7. Masonic Temple

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Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

Detroit’s Masonic Temple is the largest of its kind in the world. There’s over 1,000 rooms including three theaters, the Shrine tower, the chapel, two ballrooms, and many lodge rooms. It was designed by George Mason and built between 1920-26. Today, it’s used for concerts, events, and masonic activities.

8. Grand Army of the Republic Building

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1942 Grand River Ave
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 651-6328
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A triangular castle on the west side of downtown, the Grand Army of the Republic Building was built for Civil War veterans and opened in 1901. After many different owners and iterations, the building is home to production company Mindfield, along with restaurants Parks & Rec and Republic.

9. Fox Theatre

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Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

Built in 1928 as a movie palace, the Fox Theatre is one of Detroit’s most popular concert destinations. After becoming fairly run down in the 1970s, the Ilitch family bought and restored the theatre in 1987. Its extravagant design encompasses many exotic motifs, and a vertical lighted tower that says “FOX” serves as a beacon for visitors.

10. Book Tower

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Book Tower
Detroit, MI 48226

The Louis Kamper–designed Book Tower is currently getting a new life in the hands of Bedrock. Dan Gilbert’s real estate company bought the 36-story tower and neighboring Book Building in 2016. It was just power washed for the first time in decades, making it look brand new. Bedrock recently allowed guests inside the building for a tour of the equally impressive exterior.

Plans for the redevelopment include office, residential, retail, and a high-end hotel.

11. The Book Cadillac

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1114 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 442-1600
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Before Louis Kamper designed the Book Tower, he worked on the elegant Book Cadillac right down Washington Boulevard. Inside, the lavish hotel held 1,200 rooms. It suffered from abandonment and deterioration for decades; at one point, the building could have been lost to demolition and many of its original details were stripped.

The Ferchill Group acquired the building and, after a massive renovation, the Book Cadillac reopened in 2008 as the Westin Book Cadillac with a hotel and some of the priciest condos in the city.

12. TCF Center

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Opened in 1960 as the Cobo Center, this building near the riverfront is one of the most visited venues in the city. Every January, it hosts visitors from all over the world for the North American International Auto Show. In the not-too-distant past it went through a major renovation, including getting floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views of the river and Canada.

It also recently got a name change and is now called the TCF Center, removing the name of controversial Detroit mayor Albert Cobo.

13. Penobscot Building

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Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St
Detroit, MI 48226

Three Penobscot buildings stand in downtown Detroit, but it’s the Greater Penobscot that leaves the biggest impression in the skyline. Designed by Wirt Rowland, the 47-story Art Deco skyscraper has a red orb on top, which gets lit up in from time to time. It once held an observation deck, which is something we’d love to see again someday.

Unfortunately, recent reports indicate lots of deferred maintenance and one major tenant has left.

14. One Campus Martius

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1050 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 373-0440
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Compuware made a bold decision when it decided to build and move its 4,000 employees into its new downtown headquarters in 2003. the nearly 1 million-square-foot office tower was later sold to Bedrock and Meridian Health for $142 million.

Notable features include the huge glass atrium and arch that stretches across the facade. It’s also undergoing an expansion that will add about 310,000 square feet of office space.

15. The Guardian Building

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500 Griswold St
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 963-4567
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Opened in 1929 and designed by Wirt C. Rowland, the Union Guardian Building, now the Guardian Building, has also been known as the “Cathedral of Finance.” Its orange bricks make it stand out in the skyline, but inside, it holds the most beautiful lobby in the city. The three-story ceiling has an Aztec design made of Rookwood Pottery and Pewabic Tile. Layers of horsehair went into the ceiling, creating a quiet place to do your financial business.

16. One Woodward Avenue

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One Woodward, 1 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

The Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building, now One Woodward Avenue, was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1963. The office tower has a reflecting pool in front, with a bronze ballerina designed by Giacomo Manzu. Some elements of Yamasaki’s design for this building went into his design for the World Trade Center.

17. One Detroit Center

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One Detroit Center, 500 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

Completed in 1993, One Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue is a standout in Detroit’s skyline and the most notable work of postmodern architecture in the city. Its Neo-Gothic spires reach higher than the Penobscot Building just a few blocks away, but not quite as high as the round modern towers of the Renaissance Center. Ally Financial now calls the building home.

Photo by Michelle Gerard

18. Renaissance Center

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Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48243

Designed by John Portman and Associates and opened in 1977, the Renaissance Center, or RenCen, still stands like a fortress on the riverfront. Its design is highly debated, but to an outsider, it’s often the most recognizable piece of Detroit’s skyline. The building has its own zip code and its own wayfinder app to help get around it (the interior is like a cylindric maze). Renovations have been underway in recent years to help it become more visitor-friendly. The Wintergarden atrium has excellent views of the riverfront and Canada.

19. Packard Automotive Plant

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Packard Automotive Plant, 6199 Concord Ave
Detroit, MI 48211

The sprawling Albert Kahn-designed plant has long been a symbol of Detroit’s ruin. Built on over 40 acres and encompassing 3.5 million square feet, the property was bought by Arte Express in 2013. After years of prep work, ground supposedly broke in 2017 on what could be a ten-year renovation on Detroit’s east side.

20. Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

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900 Inselruhe Ave
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 821-5428
Visit Website

Designed by Albert Kahn and opened in 1904, the Belle Isle Conservatory sits next to the Belle Isle Aquarium on the island park. A central dome is flanked by two wings, with a huge garden in front and a koi pond in the aback. The conservatory houses tropical and desert plants, making it both a serene oasis and an architectural beauty.

It also reopened this summer after a $2.5 million renovation.

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1. Michigan Central Train Depot

2001 15th St, Detroit, MI 48216

It was once the most iconic example of blight. In a few years, it may be an iconic national example of redevelopment.

The last train rolled through Michigan Central Station in 1988, and for years after, vandals scrapped it. But 2018 was a historic year for the Beaux Arts beauty; Ford purchased the depot and plans to make it a centerpiece of its Corktown campus. Plans include local retail and restaurants on the main level, which will be open to the public.

2001 15th St
Detroit, MI 48216

2. Fisher Building

Fisher Bldg, 3011 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202

“Detroit’s largest art object.” Built right before the Great Depression, this Art Deco masterpiece continues to dazzle visitors. Albert Kahn designed it for the Fisher Brothers in what would be known as New Center, or a second downtown. More than 40 different kinds of marble were used, and the arcade is adorned with frescoes and mosaics designed by Geza R. Maroti. At night, its gold roof serves as a sort-of beacon in the skyline. We’re truly lucky to have such a work of art right in the middle of the city.

Fisher Bldg, 3011 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48202

3. McGregor Memorial Conference Center

495 Gilmour Mall, Detroit, MI 48202
The exterior of the McGregor Memorial Conference Center. There is a large glass skylight over the entrance. In front of the building is a pool and various sculptures. Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

One of the most serene buildings in the city stands in the middle of the expansive Wayne State campus. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki in 1958, the McGregor Memorial Conference Center is one of the most beautiful buildings in Detroit. Inside, a geometric patterned skylight frames an open, airy interior. Outside, a peaceful reflecting pool welcomes visitors.

495 Gilmour Mall
Detroit, MI 48202

4. Old Main

4841 Cass Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
The exterior of Old Main at Wayne State University in Detroit. The building has a yellow facade with towers and a flagpole with a United States flag. There are trees and a courtyard in front of the building. Photo by By JKPhotogenic, Shutterstock

Designed by Malcomson and Higginbotham in 1896, the Romanesque Revival Old Main was first built as Central High School. It officially became the Main Building on Wayne State’s campus in 1926, as the college (soon to be university) grew and Central moved across town. It received a historical marker in 1958 and still stands as the most recognizable building on the university’s campus.

4841 Cass Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

5. Detroit Institute of Arts

5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202
The exterior of the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The building has a white brick facade with columns. There are two flagpoles in front of the building with flags. Photo by James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com

The Beaux-Arts building at Woodward and Kirby is the second home to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Opened in 1927, the original building was designed by the French-born architect Paul Philippe Cret. Wings to the north and south were later added in the middle of the century. And soon its Woodward-facing plaza will get a major redesign.

Inside, the “Detroit Industry” murals painted by Diego Rivera covers four atrium walls and depicts the Ford Rouge Factory workers, plus science, medicine, and technology. The gorgeous Kresge Court offers a light-filled place for refreshments and rest.

5200 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

6. Charles H. Wright Museum

315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Photo by Michelle Gerard

The black-led architecture firm Sims-Varner and Associates, which was incredibly active in the second-half of the 20th century, designed this iconic museum that opened in 1997. The 125,000 square-foot facility has many praiseworthy features, but is probably most known for its rotunda and high glass dome atrium.

315 E Warren Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

7. Masonic Temple

Temple St, Detroit, MI 48201

Detroit’s Masonic Temple is the largest of its kind in the world. There’s over 1,000 rooms including three theaters, the Shrine tower, the chapel, two ballrooms, and many lodge rooms. It was designed by George Mason and built between 1920-26. Today, it’s used for concerts, events, and masonic activities.

Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

8. Grand Army of the Republic Building

1942 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

A triangular castle on the west side of downtown, the Grand Army of the Republic Building was built for Civil War veterans and opened in 1901. After many different owners and iterations, the building is home to production company Mindfield, along with restaurants Parks & Rec and Republic.

1942 Grand River Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

9. Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Built in 1928 as a movie palace, the Fox Theatre is one of Detroit’s most popular concert destinations. After becoming fairly run down in the 1970s, the Ilitch family bought and restored the theatre in 1987. Its extravagant design encompasses many exotic motifs, and a vertical lighted tower that says “FOX” serves as a beacon for visitors.

Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

10. Book Tower

Book Tower, Detroit, MI 48226

The Louis Kamper–designed Book Tower is currently getting a new life in the hands of Bedrock. Dan Gilbert’s real estate company bought the 36-story tower and neighboring Book Building in 2016. It was just power washed for the first time in decades, making it look brand new. Bedrock recently allowed guests inside the building for a tour of the equally impressive exterior.

Plans for the redevelopment include office, residential, retail, and a high-end hotel.

Book Tower
Detroit, MI 48226

11. The Book Cadillac

1114 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

Before Louis Kamper designed the Book Tower, he worked on the elegant Book Cadillac right down Washington Boulevard. Inside, the lavish hotel held 1,200 rooms. It suffered from abandonment and deterioration for decades; at one point, the building could have been lost to demolition and many of its original details were stripped.

The Ferchill Group acquired the building and, after a massive renovation, the Book Cadillac reopened in 2008 as the Westin Book Cadillac with a hotel and some of the priciest condos in the city.

1114 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

12. TCF Center

Detroit, MI 48226

Opened in 1960 as the Cobo Center, this building near the riverfront is one of the most visited venues in the city. Every January, it hosts visitors from all over the world for the North American International Auto Show. In the not-too-distant past it went through a major renovation, including getting floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views of the river and Canada.

It also recently got a name change and is now called the TCF Center, removing the name of controversial Detroit mayor Albert Cobo.

13. Penobscot Building

Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

Three Penobscot buildings stand in downtown Detroit, but it’s the Greater Penobscot that leaves the biggest impression in the skyline. Designed by Wirt Rowland, the 47-story Art Deco skyscraper has a red orb on top, which gets lit up in from time to time. It once held an observation deck, which is something we’d love to see again someday.

Unfortunately, recent reports indicate lots of deferred maintenance and one major tenant has left.

Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St
Detroit, MI 48226

14. One Campus Martius

1050 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Compuware made a bold decision when it decided to build and move its 4,000 employees into its new downtown headquarters in 2003. the nearly 1 million-square-foot office tower was later sold to Bedrock and Meridian Health for $142 million.

Notable features include the huge glass atrium and arch that stretches across the facade. It’s also undergoing an expansion that will add about 310,000 square feet of office space.

1050 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

15. The Guardian Building

500 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

Opened in 1929 and designed by Wirt C. Rowland, the Union Guardian Building, now the Guardian Building, has also been known as the “Cathedral of Finance.” Its orange bricks make it stand out in the skyline, but inside, it holds the most beautiful lobby in the city. The three-story ceiling has an Aztec design made of Rookwood Pottery and Pewabic Tile. Layers of horsehair went into the ceiling, creating a quiet place to do your financial business.

500 Griswold St
Detroit, MI 48226

16. One Woodward Avenue

One Woodward, 1 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

The Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building, now One Woodward Avenue, was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1963. The office tower has a reflecting pool in front, with a bronze ballerina designed by Giacomo Manzu. Some elements of Yamasaki’s design for this building went into his design for the World Trade Center.

One Woodward, 1 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

17. One Detroit Center

One Detroit Center, 500 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
Photo by Michelle Gerard

Completed in 1993, One Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue is a standout in Detroit’s skyline and the most notable work of postmodern architecture in the city. Its Neo-Gothic spires reach higher than the Penobscot Building just a few blocks away, but not quite as high as the round modern towers of the Renaissance Center. Ally Financial now calls the building home.

One Detroit Center, 500 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

18. Renaissance Center

Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243

Designed by John Portman and Associates and opened in 1977, the Renaissance Center, or RenCen, still stands like a fortress on the riverfront. Its design is highly debated, but to an outsider, it’s often the most recognizable piece of Detroit’s skyline. The building has its own zip code and its own wayfinder app to help get around it (the interior is like a cylindric maze). Renovations have been underway in recent years to help it become more visitor-friendly. The Wintergarden atrium has excellent views of the riverfront and Canada.

Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48243

19. Packard Automotive Plant

Packard Automotive Plant, 6199 Concord Ave, Detroit, MI 48211

The sprawling Albert Kahn-designed plant has long been a symbol of Detroit’s ruin. Built on over 40 acres and encompassing 3.5 million square feet, the property was bought by Arte Express in 2013. After years of prep work, ground supposedly broke in 2017 on what could be a ten-year renovation on Detroit’s east side.

Packard Automotive Plant, 6199 Concord Ave
Detroit, MI 48211

20. Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

900 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207

Designed by Albert Kahn and opened in 1904, the Belle Isle Conservatory sits next to the Belle Isle Aquarium on the island park. A central dome is flanked by two wings, with a huge garden in front and a koi pond in the aback. The conservatory houses tropical and desert plants, making it both a serene oasis and an architectural beauty.

It also reopened this summer after a $2.5 million renovation.

900 Inselruhe Ave
Detroit, MI 48207