Detroit’s surprising Art Deco and the Henry Ford Museum

Yes, Virginia, there is Art Deco architecture in Detroit. And what an amazing building it is.


The Guardian Building is the home of the Smith Group Architects in downtown, near the lake and the Renaissance Center. This part of Detroit is the vintage downtown with an urban density not typical for the open spaces of most of the city.

The building–finished in 1929–is a cathedral to commercialism. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland, the detail, layering, and the translucency of the glass block all compose what is one of the best Art Deco highrise buildings I have ever seen. The banking hall has commercial components, and the entrance is sculpted with a cavernous layering effect.

DSC_0790Automobile pioneer Henry Ford collected all kinds of things, and one of them was buildings of relevance to the Midwest and general American history. Greenfield Village–an 80 acre historical theme park at The Henry Ford outside of Dearborn, Michigan–features Ford’s collection of 83 houses of the famous: the buildings of the Wright Brothers, Noah Webster’s home, the labs of Thomas Edison, and other buildings from the Midwest. Some of the originals have been moved, while others have been replicated.

As you’d expect, the architecture varies, from American colonial to farm house style. It’s all very well done and solidly constructed. In a trick borrowed from Disney’s theme parks, I noticed on one of the buildings that the upper floor had been reduced in height.

DSC_0865Getting around the place involves walking or getting a horse-pulled coach like the ones on Mackinac Island. The setting is realistic, and the landscape is open and fresh. It reminds me of skansens, the utdoor architectural museums in Sweden and my native Poland.

Greenfield Village has become a tourist attraction to allow people to see how people lived and worked in the not-too-distant past. It is especially beautiful at dusk on a clear day.

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