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In today’s episode, we will be speaking with Yasmin Rehmanjee, partner and Co-Director of the New York office of Buro Happold. She has had two decades of structural engineering design experience, leading large-scale, multidisciplinary projects such as the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Today we will be speaking to Yasmin about the Hudson’s Site in downtown Detroit, a 680-foot mixed-use project that will pay homage to the late department store and tallest retail building in the world. We will also be speaking to her about the broader topic of urban redevelopment in cities like Detroit, and how it celebrates the rich history of the Hudson’s site.
The Hudson’s Site is an iconic building that integrates adjacent developments, including the Monroe Blocks and the Shinola Hotel. This site was known as the premier retailer in downtown Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s but sadly had to close its doors twenty years later when business began to decline. It is now being designed by SHoP Architects out of New York and will incorporate more than one million square feet of retail, office, residential units, and public space. Join us on this week’s episode as we talk about the Hudon’s Site project as well as Yasmin’s current design projects.
Yasmin Rehmanjee is a partner and the Co-Director of the New York office of Buro Happold, a pre-eminent engineering firm with offices around the world. She has built an incredible portfolio of completed projects including the Hudson’s Site and Mercedes Benz Stadium. Yasmine leads large-scale, multidisciplinary projects including sports and entertainment, commercial development, higher education, and healthcare. As a passionate advocate for equity and diversity, she also works to better reflect the varied cultures, communities, and clients that her firm serves. This has led her to become a mentor and teacher for many of Buro Happold’s young engineers. Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about Yasmin’s personal journey.
[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.
In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.
[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.
Our guest is structural engineer, Yasmin Rehmanjee. Yasmin is a partner and the co-director of the New York office of Buro Happold, a preeminent engineering firm with offices all around the world. She has built an incredible portfolio of completed projects with a particular on long span and high rise structures.
One project I will point out in particular is the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which features the world’s first ocular shaped roof. Previous to Buro Happold, she worked at Thornton Tomasetti and Design Consortium. She has guest lectured and taught at MIT, Yale, and and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a licensed engineer in Illinois, New York, and three other states.
Yasmin is alumnus of MIT, just like me. Today we’ll be talking about the Hudson Site in downtown Detroit, a mixed use project that Buro Happold is designing in collaboration with SHoP Architects and Kendall Heaton for developer Bedrock Detroit. Through the lens of this project, we will talk about the why and the how of urban redevelopment in cities like Detroit.
So thank you so much for being here with us, Yasmin.
[00:02:33] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Thank you for having me here, Atif.
[00:02:35] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So let’s get started. So the majority of your career has been in the United States in Chicago and New York specifically. And then you spent about a year in Sri Lanka. How would you compare working as an engineer in these two countries?
[00:02:52] Yasmin Rehmanjee: That’s right, Atif. I’ve worked in both countries. So about three years into my career in Chicago as a structural engineer, I moved back to Sri Lanka. I went back because I missed family, wanted to be close to them. And what I discovered was that there’s so much, that’s just the same between the two.
And then there’s so much that’s different. So starting with differences, especially metric versus us customary system of units. That was big for me. And I was educated in the metric system in Sri Lanka, came to the U.S. Converted to U.S. customary and then it was going back to metrics. So lots of conversions.
Codes are different. Sri Lanka does a lot of their work based on British codes, Euro codes, even Indian codes and sometimes U.S. Codes. So I had to learn a lot of the codes. I was also actually really pleasantly surprised that structural engineers are very, very highly respected in Sri Lanka. So when I was there, I was working on what was going to be the tallest building in Sri Lanka.
And whenever we went on site, it was like everyone stood up straighter. And there was just so much respect, which was really awesome. With that came a lot of responsibility as well because structural engineers, there expected to know everything about everything with, you know, waterproofing means and methods of construction all sorts of things.
And this was different from the United States where there is more delineation between various responsibilities, structural engineering in Sri Lanka is also, I would say very hands-on. I was always onsite at the concrete plant, touching, and feeling the concrete just fantastic. And then on the flip side, what I really missed about the United States instructional engineering was that there was just so many more complex projects to get your hands into and dig into.
And the accessibility to resources to learn just incredible amount of learning from colleagues, from managers, universities, books, software, everything is just so readily available. Whereas in Sri Lanka, you had to really work hard to find those resources, but, you know, ultimately it was projects and the desire to learn faster that brought me back to the U.S.
[00:05:11] Atif Qadir: And then when you returned to the U.S. you had the opportunity to teach and guest lecture at a number of universities, how do you feel that lecturing and teaching has made you a better engineer and how perhaps has being an engineer made you a very proficient teacher.
[00:05:29] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So with the first one, in terms of how teaching has helped me be a better engineer, I think teaching really helps one really hone in on those communication skills, especially as an engineer to take some really, really complex engineering concepts.
Communicate with them in a very simple way. And this just becomes so easy with client interaction with teaching and mentoring younger engineers with speaking to anyone about what you do. Right. So I think that has definitely helped me. In addition to that, I think the ability to read. Because anyone was taught, you know, kind of probably recognizes this moment where when you’re teaching something that’s really, really complicated.
The students can tend to get this glaze over their eyes. And the second you see that glaze, you have to switch gears and figure out a way to kind of bring them back or change something in the way you’re speaking. And it’s the same with clients and engineers and anyone else you communicate with, you have to watch for that, the glaze, the body language.
And I think. Helped me understand that a little better in terms of how being an engineer has made me a good teacher. I honestly don’t know. I think the only thing I can say is that teaching something I love probably made it easier to put in the amount of effort and, you know, talk about things that I really enjoyed thinking about.
[00:07:02] Atif Qadir: And then in terms of your roles at the office. So you’re currently the head of the New York office of Buro Happold. And, uh, could you talk about your responsibilities within the New York office then perhaps in coordination with the other offices around the world? Because Buro Happold does offices literally all around the world, right?
[00:07:21] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yeah. Yeah. We’re a global organization, lots of offices here in the United States all over the world, as you said. So as a partner, I get to wear quite a few different hats. Now, one of them is being co-director of the New York office alongside one of my other partners, Robert. And in this role, I’d say were responsible for, you know, working with the entire New York.
Team to set our strategy and then to implement the strategic direction for the New York team. So it’s, you know, how we want to grow what kind of work we want to focus on what clients we want to work with, et cetera. And then we also work with, uh, us director of operations to. Navigate through these times, you know, with things like how do we get back to the new norm in the office and in that coordinating with the other offices in the United States, as well as globally in terms of how we’re approaching this as an organization.
So, yeah. So I’d say those are sort of the two priorities right now. And then I’m also on the U.S. Board. And through that, I’m also part of our us board equity committee. And then with the equity committee, it’s a lot of interesting work and it’s a lot of, you know, working with the other committee members to look at how Buro Happold within the U.S. Region is doing.
When you’re looking through the lens of say diversity inclusion. So looking backwards and then looking forward to seeing what else we need to do. Cause you know, we’ve come a long way, but as with all other companies and the construction industry, I’d say we have a very, very long way to go. And in this role, I’d say a large part of it is listening, you know, reaching out to people, talking with people, listening, hearing what they have to say, working with our operations and HR team.
Get better so that we can have a more diverse, inclusive environment and, you know, finally to create a sense of belonging for all our employees.
[00:09:25] Atif Qadir: I think that’s a really critical thing, especially for the types of people that, that you’re hiring in terms of millennials and gen Z. For example, for Rita’s my technology company when we’re hiring that age groups, it’s so important to understand the values and the things that those groups look for.
So, I mean, one sort of tough I guess path to go down is to measure success based on percentages. So what percentage of this level is women? What percentage of this level is people of color? Could you talk a little more broadly about the nuance or perhaps more in-depth approach that you’ve wanted to take rather than just let the numbers rule the actions that happen?
[00:10:03] Yasmin Rehmanjee: In terms of, you know, one of the things that, of course, we do have metrics that we look at, one of the things that we’ve committed to doing. We’ve talked about internally but we need to measure progress, and we need to know how we’re doing to be able to do that. We have to have metrics.
[00:10:23] Atif Qadir: That’s a good point.
[00:10:23] Yasmin Rehmanjee: We’ve signed up for, for the past. I think five, six years it’s called the just label and it requires to be able to get certified. You have to be able to share all these metrics with the organization in how you’re doing in terms of metric agenda, pay parity with racial equity, et cetera, et cetera. And we’ve been doing this. We’ve been renewing our just label every couple of years. So one of the things that we do want to do going forward is.
Renew it annually and then keep an eye on it to make sure that we are improving. So I think I may not have answered your question exactly because we’ve actually taken the stance that we do need to look at metrics. We do need to improve, and we need to show the progress that we’re doing.
The idea being that you may not be using a numbers to drive everything, but that is an important marker of progress towards larger, important goals that you have.
Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
[00:11:24] Atif Qadir: So let’s talk about the Hudson’s Site. So the Hudson’s Site, that’s an iconic location in downtown Detroit, and tell us what makes this location really special?
[00:11:35] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So the Hudson’s Site is in a wonderful location. It’s right at the heart of the central business district in Detroit, which is just fantastic.
And, you know, recently there’s been a lot of activity happening there in terms of art, culture, retail, and new construction. And the The Hudson’s Site site lies right between Woodward avenue and. Library square, which sort of allows it to be a connector between the upcoming retail along Woodward Avenue, which is almost a spine through the central business district.
It’s also right adjacent to Shinola hotel, which is this wonderful hotel that’s opened up right across from the side. And then in addition to that, there’s compass marshes in Detroit, where there’s a lot of, you know, public activity going on. And Hudson’s, will be really close to that. So it’s, it’s just going to be so well placed to sort of contribute to the energy and the activity that’s taking place in the public realm there.
[00:12:33] Atif Qadir: And then Detroit itself. So it’s a city built on a lake. It stretches for a long amount of the lakeshore. So, Yasmin. When you talked about the specific environments of The Hudson’s Site site, talk to us about where this is in the larger context of the city of Detroit. So I know that it’s a rather large city, a very sprawling and built along the lakeshore in Michigan.
[00:12:57] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yes. Yes, it is a very large city. It is sprawling. The site is very close to the waterfront in Detroit, which has also has gone through a lot of, you know, rehabilitation recently. And there’s a lot of energy going on and bringing a lot of public realms there as well and given it’s right across from Canada. There’s sort of a lot of connectivity to Canada as well from Detroit. There are at least prior to the pandemic. There were a lot of people who commuted across the bridge to work in Detroit from Canada, which I found really interesting. Yeah. You don’t hear about that in other cities, at least not in New York City. I only hear people commuting from another country to work here, but it does happen in Detroit.
[00:13:42] Atif Qadir: Although there is this joke about New York City, 60 live in even Brooklyn. I think you’ll appreciate it. What’s the only affordable part of New York City that’s left to live in.
[00:13:50] Yasmin Rehmanjee: I don’t know. I haven’t heard this.
[00:13:52] Atif Qadir: Philadelphia.
[00:13:56] Yasmin Rehmanjee: That’s nice.
[00:13:57] Atif Qadir: So I thought that might be the closest that we come to for New York City. So the project itself totals 1.4 million square feet. That is huge by New York city standard, but Detroit standard that’s huge project. So, break down that project for us by the numbers. How much has each of the different uses that you have and how do they relate to each other?
[00:14:19] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Okay. So I visualize the building in terms of how it’s designed. So essentially it is a huge project. The project is made up of, I think of it, three portions. We have the basement, it’s a two-story basement below grade, which is mostly parking. And then the basement supports two buildings. One is what we call the block, which is short and stout.
It’s about 12 stories and the blog contains at the bottom floor, some retail market space, and event space. And then the top. Six ish flows of the block are office space. And then there’s this beautiful atrium at the center of the block, which brings in a lot of delight and energy into the office space. So that’s going to be absolutely fantastic.
And the tower, which is right adjacent to it, also sitting on the base is tall and slender, and it’s about 45 stories tall, and the tower is stacked with the bottom 10 floors is being retail, like exhibition space above that we have hotel stack and then right at the top is residential. And what’s tends to surprise people, is that the square footage within the block and the tower are approximately equal, but you know, the tower obviously feels much grander because it’s so tall.
[00:15:43] Atif Qadir: And then in terms of the uses, there, there’s quite a range of uses that are here there’s retail, office, residential, hotel, parking, like you mentioned an exhibition space. What was the, the rationale, including all of these different uses in the same building. And how did you decide where to put everything?
[00:16:02] Yasmin Rehmanjee: In terms of rationale, I think it was meant to be the center that brought a lot into this site. The site is quite significant in Detroit, so it’s truly a mixed-use development in terms of placing it and stacking it. That was very, very early in design. And the tower stacking was about keeping the residential parts of the use together.
So you have. Hotel residential, which are very similar. And then everything that goes within the tower sort of supports that with the exhibition space and then the restaurant retail, et cetera, at the bottom and with the office market was kind of similar where, you know, the offices made sense in the shorter style to block with the event space right there, and then the retail all the way at the bottom, again, to activate the public realm because there’s this external connection as well between the block and the tower with a corridor that goes between it and connects library square and Woodward Avenue.
[00:17:04] Atif Qadir: Okay. And then when we think of designers, we often think of architects first, but an immense amount of a project’s design. Like in this case, the massing, the uses all of that is really intrinsically tied to the engineering and particularly structural engineering as well.
So could you help us understand how on the project, the engineers and the architects work together on the design?
[00:17:28] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yeah, I think with complex projects, such as this, the close collaboration between architects, engineers is absolutely essential. With structural engineering in particular. I think of our work were responsible for the bones of the project, right?
The columns, the walls, that’s the skeleton. That’s what holds the building up. And to be able to do this, we need to have space. We need to know where we’re going to put the bones. We have to put them in the right players. We have to connect them to the right things. You know, the joints have to work, et cetera.
So it’s really important that. With projects such as these, that we work with the architecture to be able to complement it. And this needs to happen at the very early stages so that it becomes part of the architecture rather than being an afterthought. And, you know, at Buro Happold we do. Design a bunch of other engineered systems for the building, like the mechanical, electrical, plumbing all of that.
And all of this needs to work together to support the architecture because you need to get the form and the function. So really with all the projects that I’ve worked on, it’s been very early collaboration at the onset of the project. There’s a lot of back and forth and negotiation. All the team members, because we’re all trying to use this space and the space is being negotiated too, because of all of the variables, you have design, you have structure, you have the systems I talked about mechanical, et cetera.
And then you have cost and constructability and schedule. So need to balance all of this because in the end, you know, we all want the best building for our client. That’s our goal. And we have to work together to make that happen.
[00:19:16] Atif Qadir: So on that line of thought. So talk to us about the particular strategy that your team had for the structure of the building. So what went into that, that decision-making process and how would you for, for laypeople like our listeners, how would you and myself as well, how would you describe the structure or a strategy that you chose?
[00:19:37] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Okay, so bought the buildings are supported. As I said, on the base and the base sits on a foundation in buildings of this magnitude foundations usually go very deep into the ground.
So for this particular project, we have what we call concrete piles and New York City. But in the Midwest, they’re called caissons, which are essentially these gigantic column. Those are buried in the ground. So the block and the tower, uh, supported on foundations, which are case ons, they go 70 to a hundred feet down below the base and anchor the building and keep it from settling too much, or even from tipping over.
So that’s what the foundations do then the structural system for the bees is just reinforced concrete slab. And columns because of the use, that was the sensible option to go with at the time and on the block. And the tower is slightly different in the rest of the infrastructural systems. So the block is a shorter building with structural engineering.
There’s sort of two systems. We have to think about gravity system, which is essentially the floors, keeping everything up. And then what we call the lateral system. Essentially, it stops the building from moving back and forth too much in the case of high winds or event of a seismic event, which is not that frequent, obviously in Detroit, but we’d still have to design for it.
So for the block, the lateral system is just reinforced concrete walls that extend from the base all the way to the top. So it’s fairly straightforward. And then the gravity system is structural steel beams and columns. And the reason for that is the block consists of spaces that need long spans. So lots of, you know, not too many columns, which we love, but people don’t.
And so steel makes sense for that type of system. Now, on the other hand with the tower, because it’s tall and slender, the lateral system is absolutely critical and crucial for one, you know, to make sure the building stands up. But to also just for. Of the occupants all the way at the top.
[00:21:49] Atif Qadir: Is that because quick question is that because it’s uncomfortable if the building sways a lot when you’re at the top of the building?
[00:21:54] Yasmin Rehmanjee: It is, it is, people are very sensitive to what we call acceleration due to movements.
It’s not how much it moves. It’s how much the acceleration is and tall buildings that’s the main design criteria. And that’s what governs the design for many buildings. There are over a certain height. So what we did for this building is we have a reinforced concrete core that extends from the foundations all the way to the top of the building.
And within the core is all the other, you know, circulation that happens in a building, right? You have the elevators, you have the stairs, you have, uh, shafts that have all the MEP systems going up and down the building that rises all of the. Is contained in this core. And then for the tower, the interesting bit is, and this is not very typical.
We have structural steel for the gravity system at the bottom few floors. And then we have. Post-tension concrete, PT slabs for the rest of the tower. And the reason for the PT slabs for the rest of the tower is it’s a very efficient way of using concrete.
You use concrete to the best of its ability, and you’re able to thin out the slabs. Helps from reducing the weight of the tower, but it also helps from an embodied carbon perspective because you’re using less concrete. So that’s kind of, it’s a mixed system within the tower.
[00:23:24] Atif Qadir: And is that idea of the concrete performs well and compression and steel intention. And by putting the two things together, you can get the best of both worlds?
[00:23:33] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Absolutely. That’s exactly what reinforced concrete does with putting, using the best of both worlds, and post-tension takes it. A level higher because essentially what you do with post-tension is you put these steel cables inside the concrete, and once the concrete cures for a couple of days, you pull on them, which essentially pushes the slab up and then allows you to push down on it later with more load. So it really helps you make the best use of the concrete.
[00:24:05] Atif Qadir: That sounds really, really fascinating, especially because what you’re trying to do.
[00:24:09] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yes. Logistics are a big topic of conversation with these buildings.
[00:24:14] Atif Qadir: So that’s something I really definitely want to dig into. And on the way to that, I want to ask you in the design aspect of this process, what are the technologies, and what are the innovations that you use to come to the conclusions that you just described?
[00:24:28] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So one of the things that I’m sure you’re aware of out there as well with your background in architecture is, you know, with the design process, we use so many different software packages, right? We go from grasshopper, rhino, dynamo Revvit and then as structural engineers, we have this whole other suite of design and analysis software that we use.
And then the challenge has always been. Going from one package to another and transferring and translating the information over. So what we’ve done at BuroHappold is we started a few years ago, this computational development project, and it’s called the bomb, not B O M B bomb, B H O M bomb. The first time I heard it, I had to make that distinction as well.
So if the building habitats object model. Okay. And what the bomb essentially does is it enables us to translate information from one package to another quite seamlessly. So we’ve used the bomb extensively through our design process because it’s a software agnostic way of doing this whole translation.
And because of that, we’ve been able to, you know, do a lot of iterative design with the architect, not just the architect with all our collaborators, for that matter. We’ve been able to generate some information from our drawings where, you know, you transplant information from our analysis software set to the revenue model, which is what we use to generate documents and have all that translation have far more seamlessly, which really helps with taking our time out of processes into thinking, designing, innovating. So that’s been really great and helpful.
[00:26:17] Atif Qadir: And then one of the other challenges in doing what you described is the global supply chain. And I think anyone that has tried to renovate a home, to build a massive project like yours has felt the pinch. I think particularly you talked about concrete and steel. So China is the largest producer of cement in the world by far by leaps and bounds. What did the supply chain challenges look like for the construction of this project, particularly the structure?
[00:26:47] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So with the structural system. Yeah, it’s mostly, it’s all concrete and steel, actually. Not mostly a concrete supplier is superior concrete. In Detroit they’re local. So exactly. So our concrete’s been coming from a few miles, which has been fantastic. And then with the steel it’s coming from Pennsylvania, it’s provided by Sippel steel out of Pennsylvania. So that’s been local as well. And then, you know, because this is a large project.
Issued construction documents quite awhile back. So a lot of the material and supply chain had been sort of locked in a while back. So I think we’ve been fortunate in that sense to keep construction going.
[00:27:31] Atif Qadir: And then from the perspective of actually doing what you described, like the post-tension concrete with buildings built all around you on this construction site, relatively narrow streets for a city that was built in the early 1900s. Talk to us about the logistics of now that we’ve gotten materials here, what’s happening to actually get those up.
[00:27:53] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yeah. The logistics of complicated and the contractor or the cm has bought, and Mello has been on board from the beginning and we’ve been having conversations with them for a very long time about the logistics of the site.
And it has an impact on the design. So for example, When the foundation construction was going on, there was this big hole in the ground and it was all about, okay, where are the ramps and which foundations can we build when, as the Rams come in and get taken out and the permanent ramps come, uh, built, et cetera.
So that had to be all coordinated. And then. Buildings such as this. And especially with tall buildings, Koreans are a big thing, right? You can’t have the cranes anywhere outside. They have to be inside and they’re within the building footprint. So what tends to happen is we, again, this started talking about it when we were doing foundations, cause the Queens are so large, they need their own foundations.
Of course, we had to figure out where they go and then. The building goes up, you sort of built the building around the crane and we do what we call leave out slabs, which is essentially leave a hole in the building for the crane to stare. And then when the Koreans use is done and it can be taken down at that point.
They come back and fill in the slabs with structure at the end. So it’s all conversations that are constantly happening as the logistics of the building have figured out. And, you know, you have to change things as well as you build, and it’s accommodating it with the design.
[00:29:34] Atif Qadir: And are some of those, the changes that need to happen are they related to material availability to weather, to what are some of those variables that will cause you as the engineer to want to change the design of it?
[00:29:47] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Sometimes it has to do with availability. Sometimes it has you know, projects such as this, again, take a while to get built, right? So there might be technologies that come up that someone may want to use, try out to try and reduce schedule, to reduce cost, whatever it may be, but it would be a preference expressed by the cm to improve things and to make them.
[00:30:11] Atif Qadir: Okay, I’m going to take a break here to let our listeners know about some great news. Next month we’ll be having architect Vishaan Chakrabarti on the podcast. Vishaan is the founder of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, and we will be talking about his renovation and expansion of an iconic building originally designed by I. M. Pei, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. So not too far from Detroit. Make sure to subscribe at americanbuildingpodcast.com so you don’t miss a single episode this season.
So let’s talk about the big picture Yasmin. So The Hudson’s Site Site as you mentioned, was the home of a former flagship jail Hudson’s department store. Um, so really iconic place in the city of Detroit.
Tell us a little more about this store and the building in terms of its history.
[00:31:03] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yeah, absolutely. This is what makes the project so special is the history behind it. So Hudson Site, as you said, used to be occupied by the jail Hudson’s department store. And this was for almost a century, it was occupied by that store.
And for generations, Hudson’s was the premier retailer downtown. It was the most important department for that matter. And the country that was built back in the 1890s and being 25 stories tall, it was the tallest department store in the world. At the time, it went through all these additions and expansions and where it extended over the entire city block, which is the city block where now.
[00:31:46] Atif Qadir: I mean like an entire like block rectangle, as opposed to a base and a tower.
[00:31:52] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Yes. Yes. Yes. An entire block. That’s true. It was an entire blog. And then, you know, Detroit reached its peak in the fifties sixties, and that was kind of when Hudson’s was reaching its peak as well. And I’ve heard stories of, you know, people went downtown where they would spend the day shopping at Hudson’s, and then they would, you know, make use of all the retail restaurants, theaters around and go visit them.
It was really considered to be the economic engine of Detroit at that time.
[00:32:24] Atif Qadir: And then a lot of different political, social geographic cultural changes in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. So everything from the U.S. Highway. Which encouraged the dispersion of downtown population of the suburbs. And there’s, I think some other political issues in Detroit as well.
And eventually, the building was demolished. Could you explain a little bit more about the final decision-making and how those last things resulted in this monumental building being?
[00:32:57] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So from what I understand, you know, as you said, things changed in Detroit population, reduced people started fleeing to the suburbs and we’ve all heard Detroit was in debt and all of this had an impact on Hudson’s.
So Hudson’s started seeing a decline in its business, right? The seventies. And in 1983, it was forced to close its doors. And after that happened, there were many attempts to find ways to use the building, to revive it.
[00:33:30] Atif Qadir: Like for residential or for other purposes?
[00:33:32] Yasmin Rehmanjee: For various reasons. A lot of it, I’m not really sure what they try to do that, but it didn’t work. And then in 1998, it was imploded and yeah, I have friends who. Lived in Detroit, his parents longtime Detroiters. And everyone says that that was a very significant moment for, for Detroit. It was, you know, this large, we can space left in Detroit. And you know, what they say is in the hearts of the people of Detroit as well.
[00:34:04] Atif Qadir: And then the question would be. What happens then? So the building was destroyed around 2000 a little before that. And then for this very public site, talk to us about what a planning and design process looks like for something as iconic or a place as iconic as.
[00:34:25] Yasmin Rehmanjee: So, you know, after the building was demolished, there were some attempts to, again, revive the site. So back in 2000, they were planning to build a mixed-use development at that time. And they, they wanted to phase the construction, and basement parking garage was built there. It was all ready for a structure, commercial building a tower to come on top of it, but they never got around to building. And so when our team came on board, you know, we were very, very sensitive to the significance that this project holds to Detroit as, and we’ve always kept that in mind and thought about it as we’ve designed the building and then also supported the construction of it more recently.
And there were a few principles that. Guided our approach. You know, one was, we knew we needed to create an icon for the city of Detroit. And we also were very keenly aware that this icon needed to celebrate Detroit and the site’s rich history, everything we’ve just talked about. The design needed to engage the public realm and, you know, create all these dynamic spaces that would provide connectivity between library square and Woodward avenue.
You know, like we talked about a little while ago and we needed it to be a destination that would hopefully attract visitors. City from around the world.
[00:35:52] Atif Qadir: Maybe from Canada too?
[00:35:54] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Maybe Canada that’s already happening apparently. And then, you know, also celebrate Detroit as a leader in innovation because Detroit has this rich legacy of design and innovation. It’s transformed the way we do a lot of things in the past. And I don’t know if you’re aware, but in 2015, Detroit was one of the only us cities to be named a UNESCO city of design. And, you know, we want to be able to celebrate this through the project.
[00:36:26] Atif Qadir: I think what’s really fascinating is so this year I decided to do a series of road trips all across the east coast because the ability to work from home means it’s the same if I’m working in Hoboken or somewhere else. And in particular, I think it’s three states that I’ve felt a much deeper, deeper appreciation for, and they have a lot to do with, I think the, um, the history of our industry, the real estate industry.
I think it’s particularly Pennsylvania because that’s been the source of an immense amount of the steel that has been the foundation and the skeleton of New York of San Francisco, of Chicago, of many, many parts of our country. It’s a West Virginia because the coal that actually powered the production of all these buildings by transportation. And then I think particularly Michigan because of the city of Detroit.
And it’s very interesting history about the automotive industry. I think not many people understand is how you appreciate as well is that it’s not like the, the major car manufacturers. Became like they just like existed, just fell from heaven. And that, that became Detroit’s, uh, economic engine and employment engine.
It actually was incremental growth and tinkering and change and an entire ecosystem of small businesses that were built around Detroit and servicing this transportation. Aha like in terms of new materials, new hearts, and all of that. I think those three places together, those three states together, I think formed.
Important nexus about how our country actually got built. So I love, I love that last principle that you mentioned in terms of a guiding part of what you guys did. That’s wonderful. So then fast forward. So how do you imagine this building the base, the tower fitting into the, the skyline and the urban context of the city going forward one it’s done.
[00:38:18] Yasmin Rehmanjee: Well, it will be spectacular, hopefully. So when it’s completed, it will be one of the tallest buildings in Detroit, and given its location and it’s going to provide some breathtaking views to the occupants, and then, you know, that. Some wonderful spaces to invigorate the public realm. So it will hopefully bring a lot of energy into downtown Detroit and Detroit has such beautiful buildings.
It’s got some amazing architecture and, you know, Hudson’s will stand tall hopefully by this side. And we really, really hope that it will play the role of the icon that it’s, it was meant to from the onset of the design.
[00:38:58] Atif Qadir: Excellent. So we’re very much looking forward to that. And thank you so much for joining us today on the American Building podcast, Yasmin.
If you want to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built, subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen.
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Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind. We must reach beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and help build communities. Today, Yasmin and I have made donations to Breaking Ground, which builds, operates, and advocates for affordable housing in New York City. I encourage you, our listeners to support their worthwhile work as well.
My name is Atif Qadir, and this has been American Building by Michael Graves.
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