In the previous post, the 1913 Plan for “A Center of Arts and Letters” by the City Plan and Improvements Commission was discussed. The 1913 Plan established the vision for a place for arts and culture in Detroit. This new Cultural Center was inspired by the City Beautiful Movement that was sweeping the country. The Detroit Public Library was the first building to be constructed as part of that plan.
The second building constructed as part of Detroit’s Cultural Center Plan was the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). A commission was established to select an architect to design a new art museum in Detroit. It included Ralph Booth, Albert Kahn, William J. Gray and Edsel Ford. In 1919, based on the recommendation of Albert Kahn, the commission chose Paul Philippe Cret, a French-born and Philadelphia-based architect, to lead the project. Detroit-based architects Albert Kahn and C. Howard Crane contributed to the design process as well.
The DIA is a Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance styled building, influenced by the Ecole de Beaux-Arts, where Cret was educated. The large interior galleries were designed to provide flexibility to display art in many forms.
Architect Paul Cret objected to one of the museum’s most famous works, Diego Rivera’s murals, which he felt defaced the building. Edsel Ford commissioned the murals in 1932 and, while controversial when they debuted, they now are now celebrated as one of the museum’s most significant assets.
In 2007, a building renovation and expansion was completed based on the design work of architect Michael Graves and the SmithGroup. The renovated north and south wings were refaced with white marble from the same quarry used by Paul Cret for the original building. The expansion added 58,000 square feet to the 600,000 square foot original structure.
This is a place that evokes emotion and reverence. The building and the incredible works of art that are housed within its walls are priceless.
To learn more, read The Architecture of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Detroit Institute of Arts. 1928 and The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric J. Hill and John Gallagher. Wayne State University Press. 2003.