Designs On: New Life

After a stunning seven-year, nearly $400 million renovation, the recently completed Book Tower development shines light on both the past and future of Detroit
THE STUDY // A 3,000-square-foot co-working space, features curated art for residents and hotel guests to enjoy.

Walking into the atrium of the newly renovated Book Tower, one is instantly greeted by a sense of glamour and elegance that evokes a bygone era. It’s at once a look into the history of Detroit and a look into its future, as large-scale artwork curated by a local gallery, the Library Street Collective, adds an unexpected modernity to the classic Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. It’s a mix that’s perfectly Detroit, thanks to the teams Detroit-based real estate firm Bedrock employed during its seven-year, nearly $400 million renovation of the historic Book buildings. The team included Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group, which oversaw the historic preservation; Detroit’s Christman-Brinker, which was responsible for construction; and ODA, a New York based architecture and design firm that led the design of both the interior and exterior, as well as the landscape.

The project began in 2015, when Bedrock acquired the iconic Book Tower and its two adjacent buildings. Designed by legendary architect Louis Kamper and commissioned by the iconic Book brothers — Herbert Book, Frank Book, and J. Burgess Jr. Book — the buildings were completed between 1917 and 1928, and were used primarily for offices and retail establishments. In 2009, when the last tenant left, much of the structure had already been abandoned and left to decay.

SHINES LIKE NEW // The restored skylight, the showcase of the grand lobby, glimmers above the three-story, marble-arched atrium.

“The interior was in pretty bad shape,” says Gene Pyo, AIA, LEED AP, project director at ODA, whose team was brought on two years after Bedrock began work on the exterior (which included restoring 29 exterior caryatids, repairing the limestone façade, and replacing all 2,483 windows).

Restoring the interior was a challenge, Pyo says, not only due to the building’s dilapidated condition, but because many of the original details had been removed, destroyed, or filled in to create modern office layouts. One such element, the dome of the stained-glass skylight, was in awful condition when renovations began. Covered in tar and nicotine and missing significant portions, it was only after cleaning had begun that it was discovered that the skylight was actually made up of clear and amber-colored glass.

INTRICATE DETAIL // More than 7,000 square feet of plaster ceiling tiles were repainted during the renovations.

“We came across a photo of the atrium and saw that it had this beautiful, vaulted ceiling,” Pyo says. “It was immediately clear that we had to try to restore it to the full glory that it once was.” The atrium, also known as The Rotunda, became the “heart of the project,” Pyo adds, especially the skylight. With only the skylight’s dome remaining intact, a complex reverse engineering process was employed to recreate the missing glass panels, while those that were still intact underwent intense restoration. In the end, more than 7,000 glass jewels and 6,000 glass panels were individually replaced.

To continue the atrium’s awe-inspiring transformation, the lobby needed to be opened up, as it once was. In addition, 7,000 square feet of plaster ceiling tiles were repainted, the 100-year-old cherub clock was restored, and the original travertine floors were refinished. The pillars, stone fascias, and archways were all new but recreated to look like they originally did, thanks to portions of historic drawings and photographs. Today, the space shines as brilliantly as it did in the 1920s.

SKYLINE VIEWS // Named after the building’s legendary architect, the new Kamper’s Rooftop Lounge sits atop the 14th floor of the Book Tower.

During the lobby’s renovations, Pyo says the team began to look at it “as a living room” and a space where they “could give back to the public.” Luxurious seating, tables large and small, and the new Bar Rotunda, an all-day café and wine bar, were added — allowing the space to be accessible to those living in, working in, and visiting the area. It was all about “how can we create a really public building that would benefit the city,” Pyo explains. “We didn’t want it to be this private building that nobody could enjoy.” This idea informed the remainder of the ground-floor renovations including the adjacent service drive, which will become an activated alley featuring rotating artwork and public seating. “It will also be the backdrop for the lobby,” Pyo says. Large floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow those inside to view the new outdoor space.

The lobby and alley were only a portion of the incredible Book Tower restoration. There are now 229 residential units and 117 ROOST extended-stay hotel suites. For Daniel Olsovsky, creative director at Method Co., the firm that operates the hotel, as well as the dining and event spaces, the new ROOST suites embrace “the nostalgia of stories embedded in local heritage while adapting to the contemporary reinventions of its new neighborhood and building.”

He adds that the suites are “an exploration of Detroit’s lauded music history and automotive empire of the early 1900s,” while offering “guest rooms outfitted with a multitude of eye-catching design elements like custom furniture by Poritz & Studio, vintage rugs from Old New House, hardwood herringbone oak flooring, and quartz countertops.” Both permanent residents and ROOST guests have access to a 3,000-square-foot co-working space, a 24-hour private fitness center, and the 14th floor Terrace Club, an indoor/outdoor lounge with unparalleled views.

There are four new restaurants within the development including Le Suprême, a French brassiere; Kamper’s, the 14th floor’s rooftop bar; Hiroki-San, which offers izakaya and omakase dining; and Sakazuki, a sake and sando pub. On the 13th floor, a solarium-inspired conservatory ballroom is open for events of up to 300 guests. It is a brand-new addition to the building. “There was never anything there (before), and we turned it into a giant skylight where you’re able to look back and see (the tower),” Pyo says. The space is among his favorites.

GRAND EXPERIENCE // Throughout the building, and even in Kamper’s, the rooftop bar, historic design meets modern luxury.

“Book Tower has stood as an icon on the Detroit skyline and a landmark along Washington Boulevard for over a century,” says Jamie Witherspoon, vice president of architecture and design at Bedrock. “Originally designed as a commercial office building by the architect Louis Kamper, our redevelopment strategy for Book Tower celebrates its rich history while providing a place for the community to gather and create new memories for the next 100 years.”

“It’s not only looking at the past, but it’s looking toward the future,” Pyo adds, “and I think that’s what’s most exciting about this.”

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Text by Giuseppa Nadrowski