The renovation of a century-old, historic landmark building presents enormous challenges. The goal in renovating Detroit’s 19-story, 253,000-sq-ft David Whitney Building was to restore the building in a way that honored its history yet catered to modern users.

Originally a retail and office center, the building was remodeled as residential and hotel space, with ballrooms and convention space and a ground-floor restaurant, bar and retail space. Careful attention was paid to updating security, restoring assets and modernizing spaces while leaving subtle flaws like cracks in the marble to remind people that they are inside a 100-year-old building, project team officials say.

As is the case with many historic renovation projects, the building did not fully reveal itself until demolition. Much of it was inaccessible for investigation during the design phase, so the construction team encountered surprises as portions of the interior started to come down.

A major challenge was the rough condition of flooring throughout the building. Floor elevations were inconsistent from floor to floor, even room to room in some cases; several had a multitude of different layers while others were simply raised by several inches. Varying levels of deterioration existed throughout the building. Abatement of asbestos, lead and other hazardous materials required about six months.

One important illustration of the care and creativity that made this project a success is the transformation of the deteriorated skylight atop the signature four-story atrium lobby. Having custom glazing replacements made and installed would have been costly.

With the majority of glass panels missing or damaged, the team had to find a way to save the skylight without going over budget. The solution was to remove all existing glass in the original skylight, keep the original steel framing in place and build an entirely new skylight just above and precisely aligned with the existing historic frame.

The David Whitney Building Renovation


Key Players
Whitney Partners LLC
Lead Design Firm Kraemer Design Group
Contractor Walbridge
Structural Engineer Desai Nasr Consulting Engineers