Detroit’s Skyline Will Soon Change — Is That A Good Thing?

Laura Weber Davis/WDET

Dan Kinkead (right) with Stephen Henderson (left)

When you think about New York City, what do you picture? Perhaps the Empire State Building, or the former twin towers now replaced by One World Trade Center rocketing into the sky.

How about Chicago? Maybe you think of the Willis Tower, the John Hancock Center, or the Tribune Tower — or even Donald Trump’s modern skyscraper.

Billionaire Detroit Businessman Dan Gilbert wants to change Detroit’s skyline. He intends to build a new skyscraper downtown, and make it the tallest in the city.

It would certainly leave his stamp on the city, and mark the big changes he’s already helped facilitate.

But what will a new structure look like in the sky here? Will it change the way we think of Detroit in our minds when we picture its skyline at sunrise? And should we be talking more about the architectural implications of building something so large, and imposing, along Detroit’s skyline?

In some other cities, developers endure months-long community meetings and regulatory hurdles before they’re allowed to construct buildings that will fundamentally alter a city’s look, and feel. Here, we just seem to go along and allow those with the money to build, to do what they wish.

When the Renaissance Center was built in the 1970s, the vision for the future was a building that would unite downtown Detroit with the waterfront. In reality, the RenCen served as a sort of blockade for many years — cutting off the riverfront, and separating itself from downtown with cement pylons.

Dan Kinkead, an architect and urban planner with The Smith Group, says designers in Detroit learned a valuable lesson with the Renaissance Center. 

Many cities have a similar story behind them, a development that never came to fruition,” says Kinkead. “[Now] there’s greater awareness of how these buildings impact their surroundings… I think that’s a remarkable thing.”

Robin Boyle, professor of urban planning at Wayne State University, says it’s incredible that Detroit is talking about building up in a significant way.

Five years ago we wouldn’t even have been mentioning it. It’s amazing we’re actually having this discussion,” says Boyle. ”We’re back in the same conversation as Chicago.”

To hear more on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.

Bedrock LLC

Dan Gilbert and Bedrock LLC’s planned skyscraper at the former Hudson’s site downtown. The project broke ground last month.


Image credit: Bedrock LLC

This post is a part of How's Detroit Doing?.

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