A tale of two facades

The Detroit Cornice and Slate Building, home to Flood’s Bar and Grille (ground floor) and the Metro Times (floors two and three) has made history again. Designed in 1897 and restored to its original beauty in 1974, the familiar downtown destination for revelers and journalists, jazz musicians and office workers, poets and rockers, is in the news for its award-winning addition and contrasting facades. Kessler Associates, Inc. Architects — the firm responsible for the ’74 restoration, which also designed the new wing (pictured) and the stainless-steel face it presents to the public — has been announced as a winner in the 2000 Design Awards Competition of the AIA Detroit chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Sixty-three projects located in the United States, Canada and Mexico made up the competition, but when the blueprints and photos cleared, nine buildings remained, four of which are to be found in the Motor City. These include Orchestra Place (Rossetti Architects, Birmingham), the Van Elsander Family Center for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (a joint effort by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center and the SmithGroup) and the Kessler firm’s design for the Center for Creative Studies’ Ford-Kresge Building (which received the 25 Year Award for its “enduring … excellence”). Winners were honored at the AIA Detroit chapter’s annual awards banquet on Nov. 17 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Cornice and Slate project was singled out by the jury for its distinctive combination of architectural styles: “If buildings must be grafted onto older structures, surely this is the way to do so — by celebrating the juxtaposition of new and old, rather than obscuring it.”

The “silver boat,” which has been a conversation piece for the past two years at the corner of St. Antoine and Lafayette downtown, takes a daring step into the language of multiple forms and functions. Contrasting a sweeping minimalist approach with the original hand-crafted metal facade of the late 19th century, the Kessler design comments on the past while opening up the site for numerous future uses. Set off by many of Bricktown’s handsomest old structures, as well as by the recent modernist Blue Cross-Blue Shield expansion, the Cornice and Slate Building is at one end of the urban renewal quality spectrum — while the new Greektown Casino, its garish new neighbor just across Lafayette, is at the other.

The Hot & the Bothered was written by George Tysh. E-mail him at [email protected]
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