Monroe Blocks, downtown Detroit’s most significant mixed-use development in decades by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, breaks ground

Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects today breaks ground on its first U.S. project, Monroe Blocks, a mix of modern office space, residential units, restaurants, retail, and outdoor public areas that will stitch together the heart of one of America’s most storied cities. Located on the northeast corner of Detroit, Michigan’s popular Campus Martius Park, the 12,500-square-metre site has lain vacant for a generation until now. The project spans two city blocks and includes the first high-rise office tower to be built downtown in more than 25 years, as well as 4,800-square-metres of public outdoor space.

Campus Martius Park is a popular destination located a few blocks from the Detroit River where people-watching, ice skating, and outdoor concerts take place. Along Monroe Street, one of the major thoroughfares that radiate from the park out towards the surrounding suburbs, lies Monroe Blocks, a masterplan project awarded to Schmidt Hammer Lassen by Bedrock, the largest real estate developer in downtown Detroit. Monroe Blocks is one of the most prominent addresses within Bedrock’s portfolio and a unique addition to Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s portfolio of projects.

Kristian Ahlmark, Partner and Design Director at Schmidt Hammer Lassen said,

“Monroe Blocks is the kind of special project that only comes along once or twice over the course of a career in architecture. To be a part of a project this culturally significant that will play a part in the revitalization of such a treasured city is an honor and a privilege.” 

A historical influence
Detroit is a city with a quintessential American history rooted in arts, culture and manufacturing; a vibrant heritage Schmidt Hammer Lassen drew upon when designing Monroe Blocks. Lined with Italianate stone and brick buildings built between 1852 and 1911, the two blocks along Monroe Street that make up the development were known historically as Detroit’s first theater district. The site was razed in 1990 with the exception of the National Theatre, which eventually closed in the 1970s and remained vacant and open to the elements for more than 40 years, incurring extensive and irreparable damage.

Bedrock is committed to retaining the façade of the historic National Theatre, and tasked Schmidt Hammer Lassen with incorporating its ornate terracotta archway into the development. The façade will be carefully disassembled, cataloged, and relocated to a new pedestrian walkway that will bisect Monroe Blocks. The walkway, which is currently a stretch of Farmer Street, will close to vehicular traffic to become part of the development’s vast outdoor space.

This tying together of historical Detroit with the forward-focused Monroe Blocks is evident throughout the design.

An icon for the future development of Detroit
Schmidt Hammer Lassen, working together with local architectural firm Neumann/Smith Architecture, imagined a master plan that reintroduces historic alleyways and public access points, while prioritizing the public realm by connecting the outdoors with each structure’s ground floor. The Monroe Blocks scheme aims to connect the surrounding downtown districts, restore density and a variety of uses to the heart of downtown with iconic design, and create new vibrant public spaces with retail, food, and entertainment for a diverse mix of residents and visitors.

Ahlmark said,

“During the design process, we were heavily inspired by Detroit’s strong architectural gems and original masterplan by Augustus Woodruff. Monroe Blocks will recreate this destination for work and leisure, and will move people through the downtown area in new ways that we hope will inspire them to rediscover the city.”

Today’s groundbreaking takes place on Monroe Blocks Plot A, a site that represents roughly two-thirds of the project and will be anchored by a 35-storey glass and terracotta office tower offering a combination of large floor plates, tall ceiling heights and access to sunlight currently unprecedented in Detroit. Plot A also comprises a 17-storey, 148-unit residential building and a total of 66,000 square feet of retail space designed to attract signature shops and restaurants.

Sustainability is a priority throughout Monroe Blocks, which was designed as a LEED-certified district. The office tower is designed to be Detroit’s first WELL Certified building. The Monroe Blocks development is scheduled to complete in early 2022.