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Top 10 Famous Buildings in Detroit

Detroit is the biggest city in the U.S. State of Michigan and is located on the United States-Canadian border.

It’s situated right between Chicago and Toronto and has a population of around 640,000. The metropolitan area called “Metro Detroit” is home to about 4.3 million people.

The original settlement was established in 1701 by two French explorers named Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and Alphonse de Tonty.

Little did they know that their “Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit” on the north bank of the Detroit River would become such a major city.

The city is located in a very strategic position because the Detroit River connects the Great Lakes of North America to the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Port of Detroit brought a lot of industry in the 19th century and Detroit became the 4th-largest city in the country by 1920.

The decaying and outdated industrial buildings have resulted in a population drop of 65% from the peak of 1.85 million inhabitants in 1950.

Regardless of its decline, the city is home to a wide variety of architectural highlights, so let’s check out some of the most famous buildings in Detroit.

1. Fisher Building

The Fisher Building is one of the most fascinating landmarks in the New Center district of Detroit. It’s a prime example of Art Deco architecture in the city and has dominated the Detroit skyline since it was completed in 1928. It was commissioned by the Fisher family who had recently sold their Fisher Body company to General Motors.

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The building was designed by Joseph Nathaniel French who worked for the local architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates. It stands 130 meters (428 feet) tall and features one of the most amazing 3-story lobbies in the world. It’s also home to the Fisher Theatre, a popular live theatre venue in the city.

Official website: Fisher Building

Fisher Building facts
The Fisher Building / Andre Carrotflower / Wiki Commons

2. Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is the most popular art museum in the city and is home to an incredible collection of paintings and other artworks. The museum is located in midtown Detroit and was established in 1885. It moved to its current location in 1927.

The Beaux-Arts building also incorporates Renaissance architecture and was partially designed by Albert Kahn as well. The south and north wings were additions that were completed in 1966 and 1971 as the collection size grew over time. The grand marble court is surrounded by Diego Rivera’s famous fresco cycle titled “Detroit Industry.”

Official website: DIA

Detroit Institute of Arts architecture in Detroit
Detroit Institute of Arts / Michael Barera / Wiki Commons

3. Guardian Building

The Guardian Building is another prime example of Art Deco architecture and one of the most fascinating skyscrapers in the financial district of downtown Detroit. It was constructed at the end of the Roaring Twenties between 1928 and 1929 and was originally called the “Union Trust Building.”

The skyscraper stands 151 meters (496 feet) tall and was completed renovated in the past decades. The building is often compared to the Woolworth Building in New York City and is nicknamed “The Cathedral of Finance.” That’s because this stunning building does indeed resemble a cathedral.

Official website: Guardian Building

Famous buildings in Detroit Guardian Building
The Guardian Building / Coreyfein01 / Wiki Commons

4. Penobscot Building

The Penobscot Building is officially known as the “Greater Penobscot Building” and is another voluminous office tower that was completed in 1928. It’s also another great example of the popular Art Deco architectural style which was imported from New York during this period in history.

The tower is located in the heart of Detroit’s financial district. The tower reaches an architectural height of 202.4 meters (664 feet), a number that made it the 8th-tallest building in the world and 4th-tallest building in the United States Upon completion. The building was named for the Penobscot, a Native American tribe that lived in the region of Maine.

Official website: Penobscot Building

Penobscot Building Detroit
Penobscot Building / Mike Russell / Wiki Commons

5. Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre is a performing arts center and opera house that is located near the Grand Circus Park Historic District, a public park in downtown Detroit. 1928 was quite a fabulous year for Detroit because this amazing venue was opened this year as well.

It opened as a grandiose movie theater with over 5,000 seats and remains the largest extant movie theater that was completed in the 1920s. It has been a popular venue ever since it was opened and the area around it is known as “Foxtown.” It was completely renovated and reopened in the year 1988.

Official website: Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre detroit
Fox Theatre / Stephanie Hume / Wiki Commons

6. Wayne County Building

The Wayne County Building is located in the downtown area of the city and is one of the most monumental buildings in Detroit. It incorporates several architectural styles into one massive building, including Baroque architecture, Beaux-Arts, and Neoclassical architecture.

The building was constructed between 1897 and 1902 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Roman Baroque Revival style. The architects clearly wanted to make a statement because its located across from Campus Martius Park, a public park in central Detroit that refers to the ancient “Field of Mars in Rome.

Wayne County Building

7. Grand Army of the Republic Building

The Grand Army of the Republic Building is another historic structure in downtown Detroit and the oldest structure in our list of famous buildings. It was completed in 1897 and was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style, a derived from Romanesque architecture.

The building was originally constructed to serve as the meeting place of the members of the Grand Army of the Republic. It has since served a wide variety of purposes and has included shops, office space, and restaurants. It also features an auditorium on the 4th floor for meetings and presentations.

More information: Historic Detroit

Grand Army of the Republic Building
Grand Army of the Republic Building / Albert Duce / Wiki Commons

8. Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station is a former train station that served as the main intercity passenger rail station of Detroit. It was commissioned by the Michigan Central Railroad Company and first opened its doors for passengers in 1914 before being closed in 1988.

The train station is situated just north of the Ambassador Bridge, an amazing bridge that connects Detroit with the Canadian city of Windsor. There was little hope for the building until it was acquired by the Ford Motor Company in 2018. It will be completely renovated and reopened as a mixed-use structure in the near future.

Official website: Michigan Central

Michigan Central Station Detroit
Michigan Central Station / Albert Duce / Wiki Commons

9. One Woodward Avenue

One Woodward Avenue is another stunning skyscraper in downtown Detroit that is located right next to the Guardian Building. The buildings are so close that they have been connected by a pedestrian skybridge since the 1980s.

The building was completed in 1962 and is the main example of International Style architecture in Detroit. It overlooks the nearby International Riverfront, one of the most picturesque locations in the city that runs all the way to Ambassador Bridge.

One Woodward Avenue Detroit
One Woodward Avenue (right) / Mike Russell / Wiki Commons

10. Renaissance Center

The Renaissance Center is just east of One Woodward Avenue ad the Guardian Building and is a fantastic collection of seven interconnected skyscrapers. These stunning towers were completed between 1973 and 1981 and are used as the headquarters of the General Motors Company.

It’s a prime example of modern architecture and the tallest tower reaches a height of 230 meters (750 feet). It was the tallest building in Michigan upon completion in 1977 and still holds this record today. The complex is adjoined by a shopping mall and also features restaurants and a plaza.

Official website: Renaissance Center

Renaissance Center Detroit buildings
GM Renaissance Center / Wiki Commons