Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Guard in Detroit

Rich colors.  Bold geometric shapes. Lavish ornamentation (to the point of nausea).  Add some mechanical-esque features and go all glitzy with a building from the 1920's to, say, the 1940's, and you have Art Deco.

I won't lie to you.  Art Deco is not my thing. I mean, I get it, but I am more in tune with older architectural styles from the latter part of the 19th century.  Maybe Queen Anne, Gothic or Second Empire.  I have always liked them even thought I did not know what they were called. Boy, those scream "cool" to me.

That said, I have to give credit where credit is due.  

Take the Guardian Building in Detroit, for example. For my architecture class, I needed to write a short report on a building of my choice.  No, it was not a report in the traditional sense. It was more just a report on what I thought (or didn't think) about a particular building.  It was based on a walk-through and general impressions. 

What do you think?  

Yeah, not exactly what you thought, now was it? I say "Detroit" and you think "ruin porn."  I say "Detroit", you think "convicted felon".  I say "Detroit", you think any number of negative thoughts regarding a once great city (that is making quite a comeback, by the way, but that is another story for another time...)

Designed by Wirt Rowland, this gem was completed in 1929.   By all accounts, he was quite anal-retentive (which should be be hyphenated, by the way). Overseeing every step of all details, he went to the extreme of having the exterior bricks fired to be a specific shade of orange.  He was that particular with his design.

Now think about all that for minute. Every detail. He looked at all of them. Looking at the above picture, when you seen  an blue tile, it was a blue tile because he decided it should be.  Those arches aren't random.  They are as they are because he said so.  Each little nuance.  Every little this and tiny that was decided by Rowland. What an incredible mind he must have had.

Just look at the elevator vestibule below....

How long would it take you to design something like that?

Or what about this monel gate? That clock at the top is an original Tiffany Clock, by the way.

Here is something else to think about. Even if you don't like this building, the National Park Service does.  In 1989, it was selected to be listed as a National Historic Landmark as well as the National Register of Historic Places.  

On a somewhat related note, as I continue my explorations in historic preservation, I have now realized that I have a new label for this blog.  As you may have noticed, they all start with the letter "B".  Yup, "building" works, too. I would have never thought this B-thing would have gone so far.....


Mark Wloch said...

My wife worked for MichCon in the Guardian Bldg when it was undergoing its restoration. Turns a lot of the art deco features had been covered up by a drop ceiling that was put in place in the 60's or 70's.

Paul said...

Sad but true.

On that note however, some of the ceilings developed by Rowland were designed to kill sound (as opposed to hiding "mechanical stuff"). In the large bank room, a 3/4-inch mat of horsehair covered the cement-plaster ceiling. A perforated canvas was placed over that layer and painted.

Not quite a primitive drop ceiling, but still kinda neat...