Return to Reynolds
November 22, 2016
I have a habit of returning to certain buildings over and over, whether it is to photograph it in a different light or season, or perhaps from a new perspective. However, I make a point to keep tabs on Minoru Yamasaki’s Reynolds Metals building simply because I fear for its future. Built in 1959, it served as a showcase to the Reynolds Metals Company (think aluminum foil) who was looking to expand into the automotive industry. Naturally, Detroit was the place to do so in the 1950s, and they chose Yamasaki, who was a rising star at the time to design the new office.
Just one year earlier, Yama had just introduced his New Formalism to the world through McGregor Memorial’s incredibly successful design. Like McGregor, Reynolds features a reflecting pool, which surrounds the entire building. However that is essentially where the similarities end. The Reynolds Metals building is/was the classic Mesian glass box, but with one simple and radical addition, a metal screen wrapping around the upper two floors of the three story structure. The gold screen not only adds an element of visual interest on the outside, it served to provide shade to the interior.
The state of the building today is vastly different than the original design. For starters, the reflecting pool is no more, it was filled in with concrete and is now an overgrown weed bed. Also, the ground floor’s facade was originally set back, but is now flush with the upper floors. Lastly, all the glass is now pitch black instead of completely transparent as it was in 1959. It is my understanding that the building was converted to a Bally Total Fitness in the 80s, which I believe is when these major changes were made.
Given Detroit’s infamous history with demolishing significant buildings, I worry about the uncertainty of the Reynolds Metals building. It sits directly across M10 from Northland Center, which officially closed its doors earlier this year and just helps to illustrate the general economic status of this particular area of suburban Detroit. Just this week, the CPA building in Corktown was saved from the wrecking ball because of community support. I hope that this building never gets that close to demolition, but if it does, I want people to understand and fight for this as hard as they did for CPA. It is one of the more significant designs from one of the world’s most successful architects of the 20th Century.