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Reviving a Detroit Icon: The Artful Transformation of Michigan Central by Civilian Projects



Photo by Brian W. Ferry


In the heart of Detroit, a remarkable transformation story is unfolding, where the historic Art Deco treasure, the Book Depository building, is being reinvented. The New York-based design studio, Civilian Projects, has been instrumental in this metamorphosis, leading the interior design of the Newlab at Michigan Central. Set to open in spring 2023, this project is more than a building renovation; it's the heart of a broader vision to establish a dynamic mobility innovation district in Detroit, centered around the Michigan Central Train Station.


The backdrop for this innovation hub is the Book Depository building, an architectural gem designed in 1936 by Albert Kahn, a luminary in Detroit's design landscape. Civilian Projects has approached this adaptive reuse challenge with a keen sense of respect and innovation, engaging in a thoughtful dialogue with Kahn’s enduring architectural language. The result is a fusion of historical reverence and modern functionality, creating an environment where the past's echoes harmoniously meet the future's aspirations.


The interior design strategy by Civilian is a study in juxtapositions and connections. It's about preserving the essence of Kahn’s designs while infusing modern elements that speak to the building's new role as an innovation hub. The design scheme weaves the historical context with the contemporary needs of entrepreneurs and inventors who will populate its spaces. The building's transformation is a fine balance of keeping intact its iconic elements, like the heavily patinated concrete and martini cap columns, and introducing new, dynamic spaces conducive to collaboration and creativity.


A standout feature in this grand design is the integration of varied spaces - from open studios and private lounges to a robotics and prototyping facility. Each space is crafted to foster interaction and innovation. The ground floor sets the tone with a striking reception area, leading to an expansive exhibition space dedicated to showcasing the future of mobility. The connectivity of these spaces is deliberate, designed to create a narrative of openness and transparency.


The upper floors continue this theme, housing a mix of studios and lounges, including a unique indoor tree-fern park. This blend of natural and built environments within the building fosters a sense of community and well-being, crucial in a modern workspace. The furniture selection by Civilian further accentuates this blend, combining classic designs from MillerKnoll with a curated selection of vintage pieces and contemporary commissions.


The Newlab at Michigan Central by Civilian Projects is more than just a renovation project. It's a testament to the power of thoughtful design in reimagining spaces. It respects the past while boldly embracing the future, setting a new benchmark in adaptive reuse. This project stands as a beacon of innovation and collaboration, poised to write a new chapter in Detroit's rich architectural and industrial history.


Source: Archdaily, MMCG

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