Designing for the Future and Preserving a Legacy

Our Sight Lines series highlights how different perspectives and practices come together to deliver value for specific clients and communities, through the lens of Quinn Evans projects and locations.

Located in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan Central Station was at one point a bustling and important rail station for America’s network of trains. Similar in aesthetic to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Michigan Central Station was even the tallest rail station in the world at the time of its construction.

However, the structure has not been in operation since 1988, when the last Amtrak train pulled out of the station. The structure has stood abandoned for more than 30 years as different developers and ownership groups contemplated what to do next.

“It was a notorious white elephant in the city, abandoned for decades,” explains Quinn Evans Senior Architect, AIA Devan Anderson. “Many thought that it would never be returned to service.”

A City of Tomorrow

In 2018, Ford purchased the building as part of its vision to transform Detroit into a “city of tomorrow”. With a promise to bring contemporary design, space for innovation, and community connection to neighborhoods like Corktown, the Quinn Evans team has embraced this vision as we have undertaken preservation and redesign work on the station.

The goal is to create an indoor/outdoor space the public can use, with heavy involvement from the community. 

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“This isn’t going to be the sort of building where the doors are locked and no one is allowed in,” says Devan. “There is going to be a large public component, where people on the ground floor are going to be able to wander through the building fairly freely during business hours.”

The project will also involve the large city park right in front of the station, and an outdoor public space behind the station where the old train tracks currently are. 

Community involvement is incredibly important for project success and, so far, the community has responded positively to the iconic station’s restoration. 

“The building has a very large, local cheering section,” adds Devan. “Ford had a grand opening when they announced the renovation where they opened the building in a limited capacity to the public. There was a two-hour wait and a line down the street for people to get in, walk around, and see what was going on.”

As Quinn Evans keeps the “city of tomorrow” promise top of mind, we seek to transform Michigan Central Station into an inspired place of innovation and celebration that encourages collaboration and transports Detroit forward into the digital age.

“It represents the revival of Detroit,” says Quinn Evans Architect Chris Lattimer, RA, Fitwel Amb. “We are balancing modern comfort levels and expectations in the framework of an older building.”

Always learning

Detroit locals aren’t the only ones benefiting from this project. The Michigan Central Station has also given Quinn Evans team members an opportunity to learn through experience as they spend more and more time on-site at this building that is more than 100 years old.

“It allows me to see first-hand areas of deterioration and discuss potential solutions with colleagues, consultants, and contractors,” Chris explains. “The scale and complexity of Michigan Central Station has provided me with many opportunities to learn about different materials and the processes of design and restoration.”

At Quinn Evans, we know learning ignites passion and unleashes potential. That’s why every project holds the power to make us all more curious, more driven, and more creative. As Chris’s experience shows, the Michigan Central Station project grants ample opportunity for growth and a deeper dive into the history of architecture.

What comes next?

In our Sight Lines series, we will continue to tell the story of One Firm through the lens of specific sites and locations. We will highlight how Quinn Evans works with clients to create more than just a physical building and highlight how different perspectives and practices come together to deliver value for specific clients and communities.

Thank you for joining us as we explore the Sight Lines that connect us all.

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