The Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts
Renovation, Expansion, Historic Preservation

The Detroit Institute of Arts

Renovation, Expansion, Historic Preservation

Practical Planning Enhances Visitor Experience

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a 600,000-SF museum and theater complex centered on a 1920s Beaux Arts building by Paul Cret. Two modern wings, from the 1960s and 1970s, had become inadequate for a museum-quality interior climate and were deteriorating. Because the wings are entered at different grades, internal circulation had been disorienting for visitors.  Along with re-cladding the modern wings, we created a new, clear circulation spine through the complex that enhances visitor orientation and introduces controlled natural light into the interiors. We also reorganized the food service, gift shop, education center and other amenities that serve the public.

Complementing Historic Character

We were fortunate to find the Danby marble quarry that provided the exterior stone for the original building so that we could re-clad the two modern wings with compatible material. While our designs are modern and abstract, they complement the historic building and maintain its important position as the museum’s centerpiece. Multiple interior renovation projects within the museum preserved historic fabric and modernized galleries while upgrading access and replacing systems.

The Disruption Factor Drives Innovative Solutions

Keeping an institution open during its renovation and expansion is critical to maintaining its audience.  The inevitable phasing requires operational as well as physical solutions. At the DIA, instead of moving the collections offsite at a high cost, MGA&D recommended constructing a 35,000-SF addition to be used as swing space during construction and later converted to an Education Center. This small innovation saved the DIA millions of dollars in soft costs, minimized disruption and safeguarded its collections.

Project Details

Project Market(s):


Historical Preservation

Project Service(s):

Master Planning



Professional Credits:

Associate Architect & Engineer – SmithGroup


Detroit, Michigan


596,000 SF Existing

65,000 SF approx. Addition

Completion Date:

Master Plan 1989-1991

Capital Improvements 1993-1998

Historic Preservation 2004

Renovation/Expansion 1998-2007

Project Lead:

Thomas P. Rowe, AIA

Karen Nichols, FAIA

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