The news that Cadillac is moving its Detroit headquarters to New York City delivered quite a blow to Detroit’s ongoing rebirth. Especially considering Cadillac’s advertising agency is a shining example of that rebirth: It’s housed in a gorgeous new office in a salvaged 100-year-old building, proof that sticking it out in Detroit and can be beautiful and smart.
Earlier this year Lowe Campbell Ewald moved into their new headquarters, designed by
Neumann/Smith Architecture. The architects were familiar with the building: a five-story former warehouse for the Hudson’s department store chain with a large central opening at the center. Even though it was over a century old, the warehouse also represented somewhat of a blank slate — the space was completely gutted, with only concrete floors and pillars.
That’s probably the most striking part of the entire project — most of the “unfinished” elements that appear to be peeled back by time are actually brand new. When the architects added in the building’s infrastructure, they made the choice to leave the ductwork, bolts, plywood flooring, and wiring completely exposed, building upon the structure’s aesthetic.
But if there was any question about which era this building was living in, a gargantuan four-story LED screen at the center of the space brings the agency squarely into the contemporary realm. The screen serves a practical purpose, allowing for easy visual communication with all the building’s inhabitants. And the juxtaposition between the smooth digital graphics and the fragmented, unfinished concrete is very lovely, indeed.
There are the typical architectural salvage elements — 500 doors rescued from local buildings and wood reclaimed from rural barns — but also more inventive nods to the company’s legacy, like a ceiling made of the press plates from the agency’s actual ads. These brass sheets were used until digital proofs became the norm, about 30 years ago.
Detroit certainly has no shortage of abandoned buildings, which sadly have been almost glamorised by photographers. But this project shows how a century-old patina can be gently adapted to feel fresh, without being soaked in nostalgia. This is a building that celebrates its history without resorting to ruin porn. Let’s hope we’ll be able to see more architects embrace the old without lapsing into stereotypes, especially in a place like Detroit. [ArchDaily]
Pictures: Justin Maconochie, courtesy of Neumann/Smith Architecture