Penobscot Building

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

The Penobscot Building is an Art-deco skyscraper designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls and built between 1927 and 1928, for a reported $5.00 million dollars, in Detroit, MI.

Penobscot 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 Penobscot Building is also known, or has been known as, Greater Penobscot Building, or City National Bank Building.

Its precise street address is 645 Griswold Street, Detroit, MI. You can also find it on the map here.

At the time of its completion in 1928 the Penobscot Building incorporated solutions that were quite advanced at the time, these included a 3.33m diameter red orb, which was placed at the end of the antenna that lights up at night and served as a beacon for aviation.

Building's timeline

Construction begins
Construction completed
years ago

Architect and team

Smith, Hinchman & Grylls was the architecture firm in charge of the architectural design. But there was also one other architect involved, as far as we know. We are talking about Donaldson and Meier.

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 and the other architects already mentioned were 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 Penobscot Building a reality:

  • Murphy Company as the Main Developer
  • Corrado Parducci as the collaborating Artist

Architectural Style

The Penobscot 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 Penobscot Building was completed in 1928, right when the Art Deco movement was at its peak, so it kind of went with the trend at that time.

Spaces & Uses

The Penobscot Building reaches an architectural height of 564ft (172m), 663ft (202m) if you count the antenna, with the last accesible floor being 522ft (159m) off the gorund. It has a total of 47 floors, 45 above ground and 2 basements, served by 25 elevators, which combined offer a total of 1,258,946 sqf (116,960m2) of usable space.

Ever since opening its doors to the public in 1928, the Penobscot Building has mainly been used as Commercial space.

663ft (202m)
564ft (172m)
522ft (159m)
2 basements

Materials & Structure

The Penobscot 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 a gray granite base with an Indiana limestone cladding above it. The main entrance is accentuated by a four-story high arch and bronce gates. The entrance area also has travertine decorations.

Another material found at the Penobscot Building is metal, used in the elevators doors and frames of the main-floor lobby doors.