Guardian Building

Guardian Building
  1. About the Guardian Building in Detroit
    1. Building Catalogations
  2. Architect and team
  3. Architectural style
  4. Spaces and uses
  5. Structure and materials

The Guardian Building is an Art-deco skyscraper designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls and built between 1927 and 1929 in Detroit, MI.

Guardian Building is not the only name you might know this building by though. It is common for companies to want to attach their names to iconic buildings when they move in, or for the general public to come up with nicknames, and this one is no exception. The Guardian Building is also known, or has been known as, Union Trust Building, or Cathedral of Finance.

Its precise street address is 500 Griswold Street, Detroit, MI. You can also find it on the map here.

The Guardian Building is a structure of significant importance both for the city of Detroit and the United States as a nation. The building embodies the distinctive characteristic features of the time in which it was built and the Art Deco style. Because of that, the Guardian Building was officially declared as a national landmark on June 29th 1989, and was included in the National Register of Historic Places on June 29th 1989.

At the time of its completion in 1929 the Guardian Building incorporated solutions that were quite advanced at the time, these included the first elevator system that automatically opened the cabin doors upon reaching the designated level.

The building has been restored 2 times over the years to ensure its conservation and adaptation to the pass of time. The main restoration works happened in 1986 and 2003.

Building's timeline

Construction begins
Construction completed
Added to the NRHP
years ago
  1. 1986 - Restoration of the lobby andd vaulted ceilings .
  2. 2003 - Improvements and reopening of the building to the public.

Architect and team

Smith, Hinchman & Grylls was the architecture firm in charge of the architectural design.

The firm was founded in 1853 and under their new name “SMITHGROUP” is the oldest architecture and engineering firm still operating in the US.

During its early days, it played a significant role in shaping the architectural landscape of the city of Detroit, and theirs are some of the city’s most iconic buildings, many of their buildings have been designated as historic landmarks, becoming part of the city’s identity.

Their initial work took inspiration from the Beaux-Arts and other revival movements, however, they were quick to evolve into Art-deco and modernism when those movements were still young, and later on into sustainable design and new technological advances.

Over more than a century of activity, their designs aren’t limited to Detroit anymore, and you can find their buildings all over the country.

Smith Hinchman Grylls

Smith, Hinchman & Grylls was in charge of the architectural design, however, architecture is a complex discipline involving many professionals from different fields, without whom this building would have not been possible. We will surely be leaving out a lot of names here, but here is a list of the people we do know also played their part in making the Guardian Building a reality:

  • Union Trust Company as the Main Developer
  • William Edward Kapp in charge of Interior Design
  • Anthony Eugenio, Corrado Parducci, Mary Chase Perry Stratton, and Ezra Winter as the collaborating Artist

Architectural Style

The Guardian Building can be categorized as an Art-deco building.

The Art Deco movement flourished during the 1920s and 1930s, with many historians marking the outbreak of World War II as its final decline. Even though a couple of decades might not seem as much, the Art Deco movement had a great impact on architecture, and it's widely represented in many American cities due to the development boom that happened during that time.

Art Deco marked the abandonment of traditional historicism and the embracement of modern living and the age of the machine. In architecture, that meant leaving behind the ornaments of Beux-Arts and Neo-Gothic buildings and instead favoring simplicity and visual impact through geometric shapes, clean lines, and symmetrical designs. Ornaments were still an important part of the design, but they became bold and lavish, and were often inspired by ancient cultures or industrial imagery, instead of nature.

The Guardian Building was completed in 1929, right when the Art Deco movement was at its peak, so it kind of went with the trend at that time.

Spaces & Uses

The Guardian Building reaches an architectural height of 495ft (151m), 633ft (193m) if you count the antenna, with the last accesible floor being 489ft (149m) off the gorund. It has a total of 40 floors, 36 above ground and 4 basements, served by 12 elevators.

Ever since opening its doors to the public in 1929, the Guardian Building has mainly been used as Commercial space.

633ft (193m)
495ft (151m)
489ft (149m)
4 basements

Materials & Structure

The Guardian Building uses a frame structure made of steel columns and concrete slabs.

A frame structure uses a combination of beams and columns to sustain the building's weight. The walls in this case are non-load bearing, which allows for more flexibility when distributing the interior spaces.

The facade is non-load bearing either, as it is common in frame structure type buildings.

From an aesthetic point of view, the facade features granite and stone on the first six stories, which then continue with orange bricks, limestone and terracotta. Elegant polychromed terracotta details are seen throughout all the facade and in the tower crown.

Other materials found at the Guardian Building include, Pewabic and Rookwood tiles, used to decorate the three story vaulted lobby, Monel metal, seen in the screem than divides the lobby with a center clock designed by Tiffany. This type of metal is also found in the columns, with a base of black marble from Belgium, marble from different origins, used in diferents cololors throughout the building, and gold leaf, decorating the ceiling arches.