The Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit, Michigan

Masterful renewal of historic building assets

Detroit, Michigan

Completion Date

600,000 SF

Project Type
Renovation, Expansion, Museum, Historic Preservation

Professional Credits
Associate Architect & Engineer: SmithGroup

Practical planning enhances visitor experience

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a 600,000-SF museum and theater complex centered on a 1920s Beaux Arts building by Paul Cret. Two modern wings, from the 1960s and 1970s, had become inadequate for a museum-quality interior climate and were deteriorating. Because the wings are entered at different grades, internal circulation had been disorienting for visitors.  Along with re-cladding the modern wings, we created a new, clear circulation spine through the complex that enhances visitor orientation and introduces controlled natural light into the interiors. We also reorganized the food service, gift shop, education center and other amenities that serve the public. 

Complementing historic character

We were fortunate to find the Danby marble quarry that provided the exterior stone for the original building so that we could re-clad the two modern wings with compatible material. While our designs are modern and abstract, they complement the historic building and maintain its important position as the museum’s centerpiece. Multiple interior renovation projects within the museum preserved historic fabric and modernized galleries while upgrading access and replacing systems.      

Our 20-year relationship with the DIA produced a wide variety of new designs as well as remedial repairs

The disruption factor drives innovative solutions

Keeping an institution open during its renovation and expansion is critical to maintaining its audience.  The inevitable phasing requires operational as well as physical solutions. At the DIA, instead of moving the collections offsite at a high cost, MGA recommended constructing a 35,000-SF addition to be used as swing space during construction and later converted to an Education Center. This small innovation saved the DIA millions of dollars in soft costs, minimized disruption and safeguarded its collections.  

Beautiful marble details throughout

Tom Rowe, AIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader
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Karen Nichols, FAIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader
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