Bringing the Great Outdoors into the City

Roxbury Group, LLC
Detroit, Michigan
43,000 square feet
Hobbs+Black Architects
Construction Management
Date Completed:
Spring 2014

Before it was known as the Motor City, Detroit was a hub for ship building. The depth of the Detroit River and the city’s proximity to the Great Lakes made it an ideal location to launch freighters. This maritime manufacturing history makes up one of many exhibits at the new Michigan Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC), located inside the Globe Trading Company Building, which Walbridge rehabilitated in 2013-2014.

The intent of the OAC is to bring an awareness of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state’s vast recreational offerings to a demographic far removed from wilderness. Its exhibits cover fishing, hunting and trapping, to boating, camping and so much more. Situated on Detroit’s East Riverfront, the OAC  educates visitors on Michigan’s eco-system and state parks, as well as on energy conservation and animal habitats. It brings a full-service DNR office to the banks of the Detroit River, allowing anglers to pick up a fishing license and walk directly across the street to enjoy their sport. It provides connectivity between the Dequindre Cut bikeway, Milliken State Park and the Detroit Riverwalk. And it’s helping toward the revitalization of the state’s international riverfront.

The 120-year-old Globe Building had been shuttered for more than two decades before the Michigan DNR, Roxbury Group and Walbridge determined it could one day house the new OAC. Considering its designation on the National Register of Historic places, and because the Globe is one of the earliest examples of steel-frame construction, the project team opted to save a large portion of the building and its beams, columns and unique Wellman-style trusses as a tribute to early architectural innovation.

The Globe’s three-brick-wide, skin proved to be a challenging yet fascinating component of the redevelopment. Rehab called for the demolition of the building’s brick skin along Atwater Street while leaving two of the building’s other walls – and all supporting steel – intact. Determining what was salvageable was the first step in addressing both the safety concern and understanding what was needed to save the building’s historic steel frame and existing walls.

The perception of an intact steel frame might evoke a strong, unwavering structure. Without three layers of brick support, however, the Globe’s historic steel columns swayed like spaghetti noodles – sometimes moving a foot in each direction – as its original brick skin started to come down. The planned heavy-machine knockdown of the 30-foot Atwater Street wall quickly turned into hand demolition, with bricks being individually plucked from the top down by construction crew. In the end, 40 percent of the structure had to come down to safely rehab the Globe Building. But more than 40,000 bricks were saved and reused in the building’s rehab, due in part to their careful hand removal.

Walbridge wrapped up rehabilitation construction in spring 2014.