D-Sign in the D

If you want to fully experience the city’s art, architecture, and beauty, check out these 20 destinations and organizations
LEGENDARY DESIGN - Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Dorothy G. Turkel House, which is a private residence in Palmer Woods. - Photo by James Haefner Photography
LEGENDARY DESIGN – Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Dorothy G. Turkel House, which is a private residence in Palmer Woods. – Photo by James Haefner Photography

Detroit has become as design-centric as any art-focused region in the country. Take, for example, the 2015 designation of Detroit by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the United States’ first and only City of Design, thanks to the work of Design Core Detroit (DCD), which applied for the prestigious designation. Since 2010, Design Core has been committed to growing the city’s design-driven businesses, developing inclusive design practices, and making Detroit a “globally recognized and valued creative capital,” says Kiana Wenzell, DCD’s co-executive director. From the organization’s annual Month of Design festival in September to its Detroit Design Network, a membership-based talent source, DCD is connecting Detroit to “the design community, leading to more resources … more collaborations between creatives … and more business development opportunities,” Wenzell says.

Adds James Haefner, of James Haefner Photography Inc., the photographer behind the much-loved book “Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy,” who contributed the photos of Lafayette Park and the Dorothy G. Turkel House in this story: “All the reasons that Detroit has been at the center of modern design for the last 90 years still exist! Cranbrook, the automotive manufacturers, and iconic architecture from the Saarinens, Yamasaki, Birkerts, Kessler, Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, and, of course, Albert Kahn, continue to inspire today’s talent.”

With the region’s history steeped in the arts and architecture, and organizations like DCD adding to that rich legacy, there’s no doubt Detroit is a hot spot for those who want to experience cutting-edge design. Here, we showcase 20 of our favorite destinations for design buffs, from buildings to exhibitions.

Above the Fold

As an agency representing firms in architecture and design, Above the Fold promotes talent within the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. From leading PR campaigns to advising design teams on projects like Library Street Collective’s The Shepherd, and Prince Concept’s True North and Core City Habitat, Above the Fold is helping to revitalize the city through innovative design. Its headquarters, a former auto shop turned art-filled workspace, is just one of many such examples. “Whether you’re a maker, a connoisseur, or an entrepreneur, Detroit’s history as an epicenter for creativity is its driving force. Everywhere you turn there’s something interesting to look at, to imagine as it was, or reimagine what it can be,” says founder John Patrick. Above the Fold, 1042 Holbrook Ave., abovethe-fold.com


This past April, the Corktown community welcomed Alpino — a wine-inspired restaurant that draws influence from the traditional dishes of countries along Europe’s largest mountain range, the Alps. Founded and operated by Detroit native David Richter, the restaurant’s design evokes the charm of European countryside farmhouses through natural materials, rustic light fixtures, and a stunning stone fireplace with 100-year-old cypress beams. Stay tuned for the opening of their summer patio, which will feature a bandshell for live music. Alpino, 1426 Bagley St., alpinodetroit.com

NOW WE’RE COOKIN’ - Barda is a former radiator shop that’s now an Argentinian restaurant.
NOW WE’RE COOKIN’ – Barda is a former radiator shop that’s now an Argentinian restaurant. – Photo by Chris Miele


Barda, the former radiator shop that’s now an Argentinian restaurant, is making waves in Core City with its moody design, which showcases bold blue tile and an open kitchen that employs ancestral Patagonian cooking methods. The modern South American-inspired menu designed by co-owner and Executive Chef Javier Bardauil has earned the restaurant the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant nomination — a first in the Motor City. Barda, 4842 Grand River Ave., bardadetroit.com

Castor Design

Established in Toronto and expanded to Detroit, Castor Design is a multidisciplinary design studio led by Brian Richer and Kei Ng. Specializing in housewares, lighting, and custom work, Castor Design’s award-winning products have earned the brand international recognition for its inventive use of materials and highly conceptual designs. In 2019, Castor Design purchased and renovated a studio in the East Village to set up a product-based space for client design work and Matheson Cookware, which was launched in partnership with renowned chef Matty Matheson. Castor Design, castordesign.ca

Castor, in Detroit’s East Village, is a product-based space for client design work and Matheson cookware.
CASTOR – in Detroit’s East Village, is a product-based space for client design work and Matheson cookware. –  Photo by Peter Andrew Lusztyk

The Caterpillar

An eight-unit dwelling with 23-foot ceilings, and located in a tranquil setting that includes 166 trees, The Caterpillar is the latest residential experiment from Prince Concepts in Detroit’s Core City. “How do we give Detroit and its residents … museum-quality apartments for not more than an apartment would typically cost?” says Prince Concepts’ president, Philip Kafka. To transform the 9,000-square-foot Quonset hut, Prince Concepts collaborated with architect Ishtiaq Rafiuddin of Undecorated, who helped to revolutionize the space into a light-filled sanctuary. The Caterpillar, 4474 16th St., caterpillardetroit.com

Citizen Robotics

Since winning a Ford Foundation grant in May of 2021, Citizen Robotics, a southwest Detroit-based nonprofit, has been spreading awareness of the possibilities of creating affordable housing using 3-D printing technology. This year, the organization has much to celebrate, with the completion of its first 3-D printed concrete home in Detroit. Citizen Robotics, 2100 20th St., citizenrobotics.org

College for Creative Studies

For nearly 120 years, the College for Creative Studies “has been at the crossroads of Detroit’s art and design community,” says the school’s president, Donald Tuski. “Not only is CCS committed to nurturing the creativity of future artists and designers, but … to our involvement in the Detroit community.” College for Creative Studies, 201 E. Kirby, collegeforcreativestudies.edu

Architect van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park.
ABOVE – Architect van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park. – Mies Detroit Photo by James Haefner Photography

Dorothy G. Turkel House

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright built only seven Usonian Automatic homes, and one of those is the Dorothy G. Turkel House in Detroit, designed in 1955. Current owners Norm Silk and Dale Morgan purchased the then-uninhabitable home in 2006. Renovations used materials Wright would have employed, and any structural changes were guided by his protegee, architect Larry Brink. “The Turkel House is like a celebrity of a certain age, requiring attention to maintain her beauty and deserving respect of her place in history,” Morgan says. Dorothy G. Turkel House, turkelhouse.com

The Exchange

Barton-Malow’s Exchange is a 16-story residential tower constructed using LIFTBuild’s breakthrough vertical manufacturing, in which floors are literally lifted into place from the top down. This innovative approach made it possible to build on an otherwise difficult site, while limiting potentially unsafe machinery and significantly increasing efficiency. The building, located in Greektown, is due to be completed this July. Twenty percent of its apartments will be allocated to affordable housing. Exchange, 310 Gratiot Ave., exchangedetroit.com

GOOD PLANNING - To build the Exchange residential tower (center), floors were placed from the top down.
GOOD PLANNING – To build the Exchange residential tower (center), floors were placed from the top down. – Photo courtesy of Barton-Malow

I.M. Weiss Gallery

“Innovation, design, and craftsmanship are a huge part of our DNA as a city,” says Isabelle Weiss, founder of Detroit’s I.M. Weiss Gallery. “I founded the gallery nine years ago with an appreciation for this history and a certain sense of responsibility to do my part in continuing this legacy.” Starting June 3, the gallery will be showcasing the works of Grand Rapids-based textile artist Jenna Van Fleteren. I.M. Weiss Gallery, 2857 E. Grand Blvd., Ste. 104, imweiss.gallery

Lafayette Park

In the late 1950s, construction began on architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s now-historic Lafayette Park. “As a 20-year resident, one of the favorite ways I like to think about its impact is that it’s full of lush green space,” says Christian Unverzagt, associate professor of practice in architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and principal of Detroit’s M1DTW Architects. “Not a single resident owns a lawnmower. I can only imagine how many hundreds (thousands?) of pieces of lawn equipment have no need to exist because of how the neighborhood is designed, used, and maintained,” he says. Mies Detroit, miesdetroit.com

The “Stickwork” sculpture is a big draw at Eliza Howell Park.
THE “STICKWORK” SCULPTURE is a big draw at Eliza Howell Park. – Photo by Noah Elliott Morrison


Opening this fall, Lantern is a mixed-use redevelopment project spearheaded by Library Street Collective. The project involves transforming a more-than-100-year-old former commercial bakery into the headquarters of two local arts nonprofits, Signal-Return and Progressive Arts Studio Collective. The space will also feature affordable artist studios and an outdoor courtyard. New York-based architectural firm OMA is leading the design, which will include drilling 1,500 holes into the south face of the building to make it “a glowing lantern at night.” Lantern, 9226 Kercheval Ave; Library Street Collective, 1274 Library St., lscgallery.com

Mad Nice

With coastal Italian specialties and a Cali-chic interior (designed by Detroit’s PARINI), Mad Nice transports guests “to places that evoke great memories,” founder Jeremy Sasson says of the Cass Corridor eatery. “The beautiful colors found along the coastlines of Italy or the bright, energetic colors and clean lines of the Mid-century Modern architectural landscape of Palm Springs (are connected) in a meaningful way with the spirit and soul we believe is scattered throughout Detroit.” Mad Nice, 4120 2nd Ave., madnicedetroit.com

Mad Nice serves up Italian fare in a Cali-chic interior.
MAD NICE serves up Italian fare in a Cali-chic interior. – Photo by Marissa Clement

Marygrove Early Education Center

Designed by Detroit-based Barton-Malow, the award-winning Marygrove Early Education Center features eye-catching classrooms, natural playscapes, and a curriculum developed by the University of Michigan. Not only is its design — its colorful terracotta exterior celebrates the community’s diversity — to be applauded, but the project’s goal is worthy of praise: a public-private partnership that seeks to solve Detroit’s most prevalent challenges by providing pathways for success to children. Marygrove Early Education Center, 8425 W. McNichols Rd., marygroveconservancy.org

Oudolf Garden Detroit

Within Belle Isle lies a 3-acre garden designed by acclaimed garden master Piet Oudolf. Unveiled in 2021, the year-round splendor includes 32,000 perennials and 48,000 bulbs. “Visionary designer Piet Oudolf creates living works of art — combining perennials and native grasses by the thousands in ecological gardens that never close for the season,” says Maura Campbell, an Oudolf grounds crew member. Oudolf Garden Detroit, Belle Isle Park, oudolfgardendetroit.org


Detroit-based Prince Concepts worked with landscape architect Julie Bargmann, of D.I.R.T. studio, to create PARK(ing), an award-winning transformation of a 24,000-square-foot parking lot into a calming community greenspace with 28 parking spaces disguised within lush foliage. “Parking is just a reality that people who live in Michigan need, but unfortunately nobody has thought about in a new way,” says Philip Kafka, president of Prince Concepts. PARK(ing), 4831 Grand River Ave., princeconcepts.com

NICE GOING! - INFORM Studio designed Pewabic Pottery’s cutting-edge expansion.
NICE GOING! – INFORM Studio designed Pewabic Pottery’s cutting-edge expansion. – Photo by Jason Keen

Pewabic Pottery

Completed in 2018, INFORM Studio — the woman-owned, WBE-certified architecture and design firm looking to “improve how the built environment is designed and delivered to bring positive change” — helped Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery, a National Historic Landmark, not only more than double the size of their production space with an ultra-modern addition to the back of their legendary studio, but designed an exterior façade that showcases their legendary artistry. The iridescent tiles were created with custom 3-D printed molds and integrated into a “computationally-driven brick pattern.” Pewabic Pottery, 10125 E. Jefferson Ave., pewabic.org; in-formstudio.com

The Shepherd

In 2021, Library Street Collective announced plans to create a transformative public arts campus in the East Village with the Shepherd — a 110-year-old church turned cultural arts hub — at the helm. With architectural design firm Peterson Rich Office leading the metamorphosis, the Shepherd, opening this fall, will feature galleries, classrooms, multifaceted programming, and even a public library curated by Asmaa Walton, the founder of “Black Art Library.” LSC’s cultural district will also include a sculpture garden honoring late artist Charles McGee and a public skate park created with Tony Hawk and Detroit artist McArthur Binion. Library Street Collective, 1274 Library St., lscgallery.com

SPECIAL SPACES – The Shinola Hotel is known for its impecacably designed spaces. – Photo courtesy of Shinola Hotel

Shinola Hotel

“Rather than change Detroit’s skyline, we wanted to honor the architectural history by supporting the city’s legacy of innovation, manufacturing, craft, and artistry,” says Ruthie Underwood, the chief creative officer of the Shinola Hotel. The hotel, known for its impeccably designed spaces — such as Detroit artist Margo Wolowiec’s custom woven panels in reception, the Gachot Studios-designed San Morello restaurant, and the art-filled public living room — “takes cues from our brand’s design language as well as from the city of Detroit,” Underwood says. Shinola Hotel, 1400 Woodward Ave., shinolahotel.com

Sidewalk Detroit

Through public art, cultural programming, and an inclusive approach, Sidewalk Detroit aims to promote and improve the livability of the city’s neighborhoods. Since its inception in 2012, the organization has become known for its efforts in revitalizing community spaces, like its recent work in the Brightmoor neighborhood’s Eliza Howell Park. There, Sidewalk Detroit hosted international artist Patrick Dougherty, who created the park’s “Stickwork” sculpture, which will be on view until the end of the year. Some 150 artists, volunteers, and community members assisted Dougherty in its creation. Additional improvements included rain gardens, habitat restoration, the installation of benches, and improved accessibility. Sidewalk Detroit, sidewalkdetroit.com; Eliza Howell Park, 23751 Fenkell Ave., elizahowellpark.com

TEXT by Giuseppa Nadrowski