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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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Michigan Central Train Depot

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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.

Fisher Building

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“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.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

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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

Old Main

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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

Detroit Institute of Arts

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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

Charles H. Wright Museum

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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

Masonic Temple

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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.

Grand Army of the Republic Building

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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.

Fox Theatre

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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.

Book Tower

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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.

The Book Cadillac

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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.

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.

Penobscot Building

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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.

One Campus Martius

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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.

The Guardian Building

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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.

One Woodward Avenue

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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 Detroit Center

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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

Renaissance Center

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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.

Packard Automotive Plant

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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.

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

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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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Michigan Central Train Depot

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.

Fisher Building

“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.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

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.

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

Old Main

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.

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

Detroit Institute of Arts

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.

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

Charles H. Wright Museum

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.

Photo by Michelle Gerard

Masonic Temple

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.

Grand Army of the Republic Building

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.

Fox Theatre

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.

Book Tower

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.

The Book Cadillac

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.

TCF Center

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.

Penobscot Building

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.

One Campus Martius

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.

The Guardian Building